Energy Star Finally Gets Teeth, Bummer for LG

The Department of Energy quietly announced this month (hat tip Green Inc) that Korean electronics giant LG can’t use the Energy Star logo for over a dozen of its refrigerators starting in the new year. The decision was a result of findings of multiple independent labs that found the fridges didn’t save enough energy or money, says the DOE.

To that I say: good. It’s about time that the DOE and the EPA take appliance energy efficiency and its voluntary Energy Star program more seriously. While I applaud the Energy Star program, it pales in comparison to the energy efficiency programs of many countries in Europe, and the EU is working on even tougher regulations. I can’t forget Guardian columnist George Monbiot’s sneering response to a speech from Department of Energy Secretary Steven Chu at the Copenhagen climate negotiations in which Chu pointed to appliance energy efficiency as a new avenue for green technology in the U.S.

Over the past year the DOE and the EPA have come under criticism for failing to properly track and audit the Energy Star program. Under the DOE’s own audit of the Energy Star program it found that the Energy Star ratings for some products were “not accurate or verifiable” because of weak oversight by the agency, reported the New York Times in October.

So the fact that DOE has now turned its attention to LG’s fridges is part of a larger attempt to beef up the auditing for Energy Star. The DOE says that manufacturers of certain Energy Star appliances have until January 8, 2010 to show they are in compliance, and after that “the DOE will begin aggressively enforcing these reporting requirements, including seeking civil penalties or fines.” I hope the trend continues as appliances that don’t actually deliver energy savings but carry the Energy Star label are just plain detrimental to the whole program.

But there are, and will continue to be, growing pains for a new Energy Star program with teeth. LG, of course, says the audit is unfair, because the DOE has started asking for a specific test that LG wasn’t aware of (for a good description of the details see Green Inc’s piece), and LG has responded with a lawsuit. If the DOE issues more bans and fines, expect to see a lot more of these lawsuits in 2010. Note to appliance makers: Just spend the extra money to make these products clearly in compliance with Energy Star — it’s really bad PR to file lawsuits over greenwashing a product. And you don’t want Greenpeace up in your grill.

Image courtesy of law_keven’s photostream Flickr Creative Commons.