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Unplugged: Where’s EnergyGuide?

When the Government Accountability Office studied energy efficiency labeling in 2007, it found a surprising number of products on display in appliance stores were missing required labels. A year later, the Federal Trade Commission conducted a similar study. It likewise found that significant numbers of products were missing labels. In both cases, labels for many products on display were hard to find, difficult to read, or detached from the product.

To find out whether recent changes to the labeling rules had improved things, we conducted our own investigation over the last year, and the results were not encouraging. Nearly a quarter of the 3,000 or so products we saw were missing labels entirely. Another third of products had labels that were hidden, out-of-date, falling (or fallen) off, or otherwise noncompliant. We also found products that claimed to be Energy Star certified even though they no longer met the criteria to make such a claim.

The label least likely to be helpful to consumers might have been the room air conditioner label that was barely visible through the front grill, which had inexplicably been attached over the label. Or maybe it was the washing machine labels hidden in plastic literature bags stuck to the back of units and away from consumers. Or perhaps it was the room air conditioner, compact refrigerator and water heater labels that—if they even existed—could not be seen because the product was displayed only in a box.

Together, these investigations show that some manufacturers don’t appear to be complying with the rules requiring them to attach their label prominently and in a way that will stay on “during normal handling.” They also show that the rules governing the labeling program simply don’t ensure that energy-conscious consumers get the information they need to make purchasing decisions.

In light of what we found, we are calling on FTC to rewrite its rules to take the following steps:

  • Make retailers responsible for ensuring the products they sell have labels.
  • Require room air conditioners, compact refrigerators and water heaters to display labels on the box as well as on the product.
  • Instead of allowing labels to be hung on flimsy “hang tags,” use durable adhesive labels.

The Energy Policy and Conservation Act requires FTC to establish rules ensuring that products have labels and that those labels are helpful to consumers. Labels that can’t be seen or don’t exist are not going to be helpful. Let’s hope FTC realizes that and works to correct the problem.