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Unplugged: EnergyGuide Program Mysteries Unveiled

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12 July 2012, 6:30 AM
In game of hide-and-seek online, consumers are winning

When the Federal Trade Commission looked into energy efficiency labeling online, it found that retailer after retailer was failing to provide consumers with required information about appliance operating costs and energy usage. Even after the agency levied stiff fines against some retailers, many if not most retailers continued to ignore their consumers’ need for this information.

Then we got involved.

I’ve described looking for energy efficiency information online as a game of hide-and-seek. But that information is getting increasingly easier to find. Over the last year, Earthjustice has succeeded in getting dozens of online appliance retailers—including many of the country’s largest—to fix the problems with their online listings and disclose information required by law.

To do this, we’ve documented, in excruciating detail, more than 6,000 instances where online listings were missing this information. We’ve then taken that documentation directly to the companies, sending informal letters calling on them to fix the problems within 60 days.

In almost every case, retailers have responded positively. In a handful of others (involving Target, Newegg and BJ’s), we’ve had to send the evidence we’ve collected to the FTC and ask the commission to initiate enforcement action in order to see significant progress from the companies.

Not only is that information becoming more ubiquitous, it’s about to become more visible. Last summer, we petitioned the FTC to require online retailers to clearly display EnergyGuide labels on their product listings. Thanks in large part to 10,000 messages from supporters like you, the agency proposed a rule that would largely grant our request. We’re continuing to put pressure on the commission to make this change, as well as others designed to ensure that online consumers—especially those shopping on sites like and—can find the information they need.

Ensuring access to information about the energy efficiency of products on the market is not just a consumer issue; it’s also crucial from an environmental standpoint that anyone buying an appliance can find the models that save energy. Efficient appliances use less energy to perform the same functions, reducing power plant pollution and the many environmental problems associated with coal mining and natural gas drilling.

So next time you’re shopping for an appliance or television online, be sure to consider how much it will cost to use the product. And if for some reason you can’t find that information, let us know. We’ll make sure it is there.

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