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Playing Hide-And-Seek With Energy Efficiency 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?

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.)

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

A petition we are filing on behalf of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, Consumers Union, and Public Citizen calls upon the agency to require online retailers to prominently display the yellow Energy Guide label for the appliances they sell online.

FTC rules currently require these labels—which include both an estimate of annual operating costs and a comparison to similar products—to be prominent and visible for consumers shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. But online, where space is even more abundant, retailers can simply provide links (or sometimes a series of links) leading to the label, or just bury the estimated annual operating costs somewhere on the page without giving any comparative information.

U.S. retailers sold more than $1 billion of appliances online last year, increasing that figure even as total appliance sales fell. As online sales continue to increase, ensuring that consumers have access to the Energy Guide label becomes more and more important.

I've blogged previously about how the Energy Guide label, in spite of its shortcomings, can be a convenient way to help consumers save money and energy. But the information isn't going to help consumers if they can't find it.

Please join us in asking FTC to require that online retailers make Energy Guide labels easy to find. Leave a comment here, or send us an e-mail, letting FTC know whether you find the examples above (or others you've encountered) helpful. We'll collect your feedback and provide it to FTC.

And in the coming days, I’ll be writing about steps Earthjustice is taking to address online retailers who aren't providing any information, and what you can do to help.