15 Bogus Products (Including a Gas Powered Alarm Clock) Get Energy Star Approval

An investigation into energy efficiency by the Government Accountability Office highlights a shocking degree of self-regulation.

The EPA's Energy Star program is great in theory. It helps consumers quickly recognize the most energy efficient products and, hopefully, encourages them to pick those over the less efficient models. But the problem is that Energy Star relies too much on self-reporting by the product makers, making it relatively easy to game the system. To demonstrate this, the Government Accountability Office conducted a secret evaluation by submitting 20 fake products (including a gasoline-powered alarm clock!) and 4 fake companies for Energy Star approval. The results are shocking.

GAO's investigation shows that Energy Star is for the most part a self-certification program vulnerable to fraud and abuse. GAO obtained Energy Star certifications for 15 bogus products, including a gas-powered alarm clock. Two bogus products were rejected by the program and 3 did not receive a response. In addition, two of the bogus Energy Star firms developed by GAO received requests from real companies to purchase products because the bogus firms were listed as Energy Star partners. This clearly shows how heavily American consumers rely on the Energy Star brand. The program is promoted through tax credits and appliance rebates, and federal agencies are required to purchase certain Energy Star certified products.

Four fictional firms with crappy websites and products that existed on paper only were granted Energy Star partnerships, including the obviously tongue-in-cheek Tropical Thunder Appliances.

It's pretty obvious that many of the applications weren't even read. I mean, who in their right mind woud approve a gasoline-powered alarm clock that is described in the application as being "the size of a small generator and powered by gasoline"? This looks like a textbook case of rubber stamping...

Known Problem, Potential Solutions
Sadly, this isn't exactly a new problem. Last year Jaymi wrote about it here. But there's some hope. The EPA and DoE have said that they would tighten the standards of Energy Star testing, which is good, but if they want to avoid some big scandal in the future that could forever tarnish the Energy Star logo, they better act quick.

Michael Graham Richard is editor of the Science & Technology and the Cars & Transportation categories for Treehugger and he's also the editor of Discovery Green.
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