The little blue logo that changed efficiency standards


The little blue (and sometimes black) logo with the star inside that you see on all sorts of appliances and electronics has changed the way we view savings through more efficient products.

The ENERGY STAR® program, started in 1992, claims credit for reducing pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and for saving Americans $30 billion in energy costs in 2017. Analysts credit ENERGY STAR® with innovating the energy industry, as manufacturers set goals of making more energy efficient products than their competitors.

What ENERGY STAR® does is make it easy to know whether a product you’re thinking about buying is more energy efficient. Essentially the program looks at the average energy use of each type of product, and awards the ENERGY STAR® rating to top performers based on different criteria — a refrigerator needs to be 9% more energy efficient than the minimum efficiency standard; a computer needs to use 25% less electricity than conventional models and include a power-saving mode

The Environmental Protection Agencey uses several specifications to determine if products meet the ENERGY STAR® standard.

option when it’s not being used.

So, if the appliance or electronic device you’re purchasing includes the ENERGY STAR® logo, you know it’s among the most energy-efficient products available. That simplicity is the secret to the success of the program that is run by the federal Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The program’s effectiveness comes from a complex process of making sure the ENERGY STAR® logo is accurate and trusted –– and the numbers show it is trusted. Americans bought more than 300 million ENERGY STAR®-rated products in 2017 alone, and an ENERGY STAR® study found that three-fourths of U.S.

An ENERGY STAR® study found that three-fourths of U.S. households say the ENERGY STAR® label influences their purchases.

households say the ENERGY STAR® label influences their purchases. According to, the EPA uses the following specifications to determine if products meet the ENERGY STAR® standard:

  • Product categories must contribute significant energy savings nationwide.
  • Certified products must deliver the features and performance demanded by consumers, in addition to increased energy efficiency.
  • If the certified product costs more than a conventional, less-efficient counterpart, purchasers will recover their investment in increased energy efficiency through utility bill savings within a reasonable period of time.
  • Energy efficiency can be achieved through broadly available, non-proprietary technologies offered by more than one manufacturer.
  • Product energy consumption and performance can be measured and verified with testing.
  • Labeling effectively differentiates products and must be visible to consumers.

Today, more than 500 certified labs in 25 countries around the world test more than 1,500 products a year, along with surprise inspections, to manage a list of 60,000 product models. ENERGY STAR® runs seminars on how to meet its standards. Those standards require that TVs must use 3 watts or less when switched off; light bulbs must use two-thirds less energy than standard incandescent bulbs; ENERGY STAR® home furnaces must be between 4% and 15% more efficient than standard furnaces.

ENERGY STAR® tests also require quality standards in addition to just energy efficiency. In general, products must have popular features, like internet connectivity for smart TVs. Light bulbs must last up to 15 times longer and produce 70% to 90% less heat than conventional bulbs.

In 2018, ENERGY STAR® tested 1,792 models, disqualifying 59 of them. Of the 858 different kinds of lighting and fans tested that year, 51 were disqualified. Of the 35 TVs tested, two were disqualified.

ENERGY STAR® has caught on because it has something for everybody — ways for consumers to save money; ways for businesses to promote their efficient products; online calculators for those wanting deep dives into finding the ideal energy use; and for the rest of us, a simple little logo that tells us we’re buying one of the most energy-efficient products available.

ENERGY STAR® Tools for Calculating Savings

Over the years, ENERGY STAR® has branched into ratings for business, industry and new homes. Its website,, sprawls with details, explanations and features like ask the expert, product finders, tax credit calculators, recommendations for business strategies, lists of certified test laboratories, even suggestions for how to set up your video games to make them more efficient.

An example of what’s available sits in the middle of the homepage, a link to “Improve your home’s comfort and efficiency.” So, I decided to give it a try.

The webpage asked me to create a password before answering questions about the square footage of my house, the number of light fixtures and the appliance model and year of purchase.

Full disclosure, I did not complete the entire questionnaire, but the site provided some helpful recommendations.

I could save energy by replacing a ceiling fan that probably was not made with efficiency in mind — it was installed before ENERGY STAR® was even born. It also suggested replacing our 10-year-old dishwasher — no big surprise there either.

It’s certainly no secret that today’s appliances are becoming more energy efficient, and newer models use a lot less energy for the same amount of work as their older counterparts. If you’re interested in calculating potential savings, visit

Paul Wesslund writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association (NRECA), the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56% of the nation’s landscape.