Couch Potatoes: A Little Yellow Sticker Can Save You Money

TV label makes way for big dollar and energy savings for Americans

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The best part about energy efficiency—aside from its amazing potential to cut national energy use by 23 percent according to McKinsey by 2020 (that’s the amount of energy coal supplies for our nation)—is the money it saves consumers. Sometimes the savings are so great that the best way to promote efficiency is to make sure consumers see the clear money-saving opportunities.

That’s what the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is doing with its EnergyGuide label, which allows anyone buying a new TV to compare its energy efficiency with that of other models, as well as the annual cost of powering it. Yesterday, the FTC announced some big news for efficiency in this country: TVs will now be required to carry the EnergyGuide label.

Currently, we are unable to compare the efficiency of different TVs—we have no way to even determine the most and least efficient models. And for the exact same size, type of TV, and brand, you can pay three times the amount to power one TV over another. That can translate into about $50 more per year for the least efficient TV of 40 inches or larger, for example.

So, the energy and cost savings for the consumer are clear. But what kind of a difference can one little label on one appliance, TVs, make nationally?

In 2010 alone, 37 million TVs will have been shipped to the U.S. for sale. And unless you’re living under a rock, you’ve probably noticed that many are the flat, clear, huge-screen sort. As our TVs get bigger, they thirst more energy. Altogether, TVs in this country use more than 50 billion kilowatt hours of electricity a year – enough to power all the homes in New York state for an entire year.

That’s why Earthjustice has been advocating to the FTC to get this EnergyGuide label on TVs, and in doing so, to make this label as effective as possible in informing customers.

Recognizing that many consumers research and purchase TVs online, Earthjustice managing attorney David Baron urged the FTC to require Internet sellers to display the full energy guide label (or a link thereto) on the main page displaying a particular TV model, so consumers can compare the efficiency of different models while shopping online. This particular part of the yesterday’s final rule on the TV label is perhaps the most critical.

While this new rule is a great step, the FTC’s job on TVs isn’t near done. As David said in a press statement this morning, "The FTC has done a good job of bringing this label to appliances, but to bring about real savings for consumers, it must strengthen the rules and get serious about enforcing them.” This means requiring retailers to make sure that display models have the energy efficiency label properly shown at all times.

A 2007 government investigation found that half of appliances viewed in a sample of retail stores were not properly labeled. Some had no EnergyGuide labels at all, while others had labels that weren’t in an easily viewable location.

And after enforcement, the FTC still needs to go further in bringing consumers even more power to save: The TV Energy Guide label itself is too small to be read on higher store shelves, and the label and information is not required on appliance boxes for easy viewing by consumers as they browse store aisles.

If we can get serious about giving American consumers information on the energy costs of appliances and products, we’ll start to unlock the real potential of energy efficiency.

Liz Judge worked at Earthjustice from 2010–2016. During that time, she worked on mountaintop removal mining, national forests, and clean water issues, and led the media and advocacy communications teams.