Jonathan Wiener's Blog Posts

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Jonathan Wiener's blog

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unEARTHED is a forum for the voices and stories of the people behind Earthjustice's work. The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily represent the opinion or position of Earthjustice or its board, clients, or funders.

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22 September 2011, 12:41 PM
Target withholds important energy information from consumers

Target has made headlines lately for its customer service debacle involving the launch of a designer line, but, unfortunately, the company’s woes with customers seem only to get worse.

Today, Earthjustice filed a citizen complaint with the Federal Trade Commission because the company has withheld from its customers important energy information on appliances. Congress has ordered the FTC to ensure companies provide this information, and we are calling on the commission to  initiate enforcement action against Target Corporation for repeated ongoing violations of the laws requiring this information.

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22 July 2011, 9:12 AM
Groups ask FTC to take the mystery out of appliance information

Today, we begin with a quiz:

Which of the following should online consumers have to do to be able to evaluate the operating costs of an appliance?

  1. Scroll to the very bottom of a long page of text, then visit other websites and do the same until they have enough data points to make their own comparisons.
  2. Click on a button labeled "Larger Photo."
  3. Follow a link labeled "Manual."
  4. Find and follow a link labeled "Take a Product Tour," and then select a tab labeled "Documents."

The answer, of course, is none of the above. Energy efficiency information is an important consideration for those who want to know the real costs of appliances before purchasing them, and consumers are legally entitled to it. But many online retailers require consumers who want it to jump through just these sorts of ridiculous hoops, as you can see here, here, here and here. (Or, click through the slideshow below to see screenshots.)

  • Scroll all the way to the bottom of the 'Features & Specifications' list to find the operating cost ... and then repeat the hunt on other online appliance sites to be able to make comparisons.
  • It makes perfect sense: the operating cost of this appliance is  found by clicking on the 'Larger Photo' link.
  • Equally helpful, the operating cost for this appliance is buried in the PDF manual.
  • If all else fails, 'Take a Product Tour,' and click through five tabs to find your way to 'Documents,' and, finally, the operating cost of the appliance.

Earthjustice, today, asks the Federal Trade Commission to end this practice.

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17 June 2011, 7:35 AM
Things the label doesn't tell you, and what you can do about it

The Energy Star logo is one of the most trusted labels for consumers looking to make environmentally conscious purchasing decisions. But the familiar blue-and-white stickers do not always indicate what consumers think.

Appliances that carry the label are among the most energy efficient in their category. And, generally speaking, consumers can save a lot of energy and money by choosing them over less efficient alternatives. Here are a few reasons why that is not always true.

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31 May 2011, 2:08 PM
Some tips to improve their efficiency
(Photo credit: ALT1040 / Flickr.)

I was talking to a co-worker recently about how to improve the efficiency of her new TV. She doesn’t watch much—certainly not the five hours a day that new TVs average—so the obvious answer of “Turn it off” wouldn’t have helped much.

Instead, I sent her these helpful tips from the folks at CNET and our friends at NRDC, which basically amount to “at least turn it mostly off,” by turning down the brightness and disabling certain features that are constantly running in the background.

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24 May 2011, 8:54 AM
Distinguishing the two labeling schemes for new appliances

If you know the difference between the Energy Guide label and the Energy Star label, you are in better shape than many consumers, even many energy-conscious ones. (If you can explain why it makes sense to have three different federal agencies administer two separate labeling programs with names and purposes so similar that even retailers get them confused, you’re a genius.)

The Energy Guide label is a yellow-and-black sticker or hang tag that tells consumers the estimated annual energy use and operating costs of new household appliances.

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17 May 2011, 10:42 AM
For real energy savings, turn off the tube

A law that took effect last week requires new televisions for sale in retail showrooms to carry yellow Energy Guide labels, allowing consumers to evaluate and compare how much energy different models use and how much they cost to operate each year. My colleague Liz Judge blogged about the impact of these labels previously.

The most eye-opening information those labels contain is in the fine print.

“Your energy cost depends on your utility rates and use. The estimated cost is based on 11 cents per kWh and 5 hours of use per day. For more information, visit"

Try to wrap your head around that: According to our best estimates, new TVs are watched in one form or another for 5 hours each day. Consumers Union actually argued that 5 hours is an underestimate, and that manufacturers should estimate costs based on 8 hours of use.

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09 May 2011, 11:19 AM
Ranges, rates haven't been updated since 2007
Photo: Brandi Korte

Your new appliance is more expensive to operate than you think.

Since 2007, certain household appliances have carried revamped yellow Energy Guide labels that contain two key features. The first is the estimated annual costs of powering the appliance. The second is a linear scale that enables you to compare that figure with the costs of operating similar models. Both of these are useful, but neither provides up-to-date information.

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12 April 2011, 9:35 AM
FTC chips away at labeling rules for light bulbs—will Congress do more?

The Federal Trade Commission announced today that it will delay a requirement for manufacturers to provide more detailed information on light bulb packaging. The commission also carved out an exception for inefficient 75-watt incandescent bulbs, which are being phased out in 2013. The best thing one can say about the announcement is that it could have been a lot worse.

This decision is a loss for consumers, but only a partial one. The new labels will still arrive next January, six months later than scheduled, but better late than never.

The major improvement of the new labels, at right, will be to make the costs of powering bulbs clearer. While the old labels contained information about energy usage, they did so by using wattage. An FTC study ordered by Congress revealed that consumers were interpreting watts as a measure of a bulb’s brightness.

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04 February 2011, 8:54 AM
Court approves case to stop falsely promoted “Made in the U.S.A.” products

The California Supreme Court last week sided with consumers and their ability to rely on product labels, allowing a case to go forward against the makers of products falsely labeled “Made in the U.S.A.”

Defense lawyers, supported by self-styled “tort reformers”, had sought to dismiss the case by arguing that consumers are not injured by false labeling claims—and thus can’t sue over them—unless the product is defective or the company also charges a premium for the product.

But the court, in a 5-2 opinion, correctly rejected that argument and reaffirmed the importance that labels have to consumers.