What is the energy star program?

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If you are in the US, you will probably recognize the blue Energy Star sticker. However, do you know what it means?

To be honest, growing up I wasn’t really worried about the environment, how much plastic I was using or contamination. It has not been till recently that I’ve been aware of the negative effects of pollution and started to take steps to reduce my family environmental footprint.

One of the first steps that I did is to choose Energy Star products when possible.

What is the goal of the Energy Star program?

The Energy Star is a program established by the Environmental Protection Agency (EAP) that provides a simple, credible and unbiased way to inform consumers about energy efficiency products. It makes sure that it’s easy for you to identify a product that protects the environment and that will save you money.   

The EPA ensures that every product that earn the distinctive blue label has been independently certified to deliver the performance, quality and savings that consumers come to expect. 

what is energy star program
The Energy Star logo

To give you an idea, just in 2018 about 4000 manufacturers and retailers partnered with Energy Star to make and sell millions of certified products across over 75 product categories.

As expected, its standards evolve based on technology improvements and industry changes. For example, in 2019 appliances, cooling equipments or commercial food services had an updated performance requirement.

History of the Energy Star

The Energy star was introduced in 1992 by the U.S Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It was born as a voluntary labelling program. It operates under the authority of the Clean Air Act in order to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions. It was first cited in President George H. W. Bush’s 1992 Climate Action Plan.

Monitors and computers were the first products to feature the blue label. Turns out that back then about 30% to 40% of computers and screens were left ON after work hours. Given the excessive power consumption that this caused the Energy Star program was born to show that, energy-efficient technologies can contribute to a clean environment and help to grow the economy as well.

In the beginning the EPA worked with experts from computer companies like Apple, IBM and HP to develop the criteria to earn an Energy Star label.

The idea to engage with industry leaders early and openly was repeated across other verticals and categories.

The challenge was however to build consumer demand for these products. That’s were the first label comes in with a clear and simple message: Energy Star Saves Energy and Money. It wasn’t till 1997 that the EPA launched the first broad outreach campaign to encourage consumers to look for the Energy Star label. That’s when the tagline “Saving the Earth. Saving Your Money” was included on outreach materials.

The Energy Star logo used in 1997

By 2000 about 40% of US households were aware of the Energy Star label. This translated into saving $5 million in utility bills and preventing greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to the emissions from 10 million vehicles.

It didn’t stop here though. In 2001 an integrated multimedia campaign was launched to create an emotional connection with the brand. The EPA was reaching out to Americans hoping to encourage everyone to help protect the environment with the “Change” campaign.

That same year the Energy Star logo was redesigned to make it clearer, more visible and easier to use. This new logo and strategy is the same that continues to this day.

Energy Star Logo Evolution

To-date more than 90% of Americans recognize the Energy Star label. 30 to 45% of households state that they purchase an Energy Star qualified product in a year and almost 85% of purchasers would recommend an Energy Star product to a friend. All of these clear signs of the success of the Energy Star in the US.

Energy Star Program Awareness evolution
The Energy Star public awareness evolution

Since its inception Americans have purchased more than 6 billion Energy Star certified products. Just in 2017, Americans purchased more than 300 million Eneregy Star certified products.

How Energy Star can benefit you?

Just with a new certified Energy Star refrigerator you could save about $60/year on electricity bills. Additionally, you will be helping the environment polluting less with the appliances that you are using on daily basis.

The Energy Efficiency tier rating

The Energy Star program does not have a tier like the CEE (Consortium for Energy Efficiency). It does provide instead a criteria for each type of appliance based on its performance compared to the Federal Minimum Efficiency Standards.

CEE Logo
The CEE Logo

Since 1990 the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has established maximum energy consumption standards for refrigerators and freezers through the Federal Minimum Efficiency Standards. These standards are obviously based on the size, features and configuration option of the refrigerator or freezer. With refrigerators and freezers it’s the following one:

10% less measured energy use than the minimum federal efficiency standards

10% less measured energy use than the minimum federal efficiency standards

10% less measured energy use than the minimum federal efficiency standards

The CEE Tier

The CEE (Consortium for Energy Efficiency) has developed a tiered energy efficiency program to help further the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) with the Energy Star program. The idea is to help efficiency programs to achieve their goals dividing appliances by tiers of efficiency.

The first tier aligns with the Energy Star cost-effective program and it features only the top 25% of energy performers in a product category. These products are more cost-effective for the customer and multiple manufactures have several products available on this category.

These tiers are above the Energy Star minimum in terms of performance. About 3 or more manufacturers make it in this category. Products on this tier are more cost-effective for customers with incentives. In theory the up-front cost should be covered long term by rebates, incentive programs and the savings on electricity.

This is more of an aspirational Tier really. It’s for exceptional and aspirational energy efficiency performance and attracts early adopters. It recognizes products that deliver top performance.

Doing my research on the CEE Tiers, I’ve found a few sites stating that the CEE Advanced Tier is equal to Energy Star registered Most Efficient Criteria. This is not the case. 

As you can see above, the CEE Advanced Tier is an aspirational level of efficiency (in other words few or no products may fulfill this tier at a specific time). Think of it as more of a guidance for future programs and what manufacturers should aim to than anything else. 

Given this fact, stating that the CEE Advanced Tier is equal to the Energy Star “Most Efficient Criteria” is just wrong. 

Don’t believe me? Check the CEE’s specifications document. Only Tier 1 aligns with the Energy Star program. There rest Tiers go above.

What is an energy guide label

The energy guide label is a bright yellow and black sticker that the Federal Government requires most appliances to display. The idea is to help the consumer to figure out if an appliance is energy efficient. To do so, they display the annual energy consumption of that appliance (how much energy that product uses in a year) and the operating cost (how much it will cost you), so you can easily compare different items. 

Danby DAR044A6DDB Energy Guide label

How to read the Energy guide label

The Energy guide label is required to be placed on all appliances by their manufacturers.
It clearly shows information about the product energy consumption, how much energy the appliance uses compared to similar models and how much it will cost you to use it in terms of electricity.

You will find that the label always shows the following information:

  • Maker
  • Model Number
  • Size of the appliance
  • Estimated yearly operation cost (which is based on the US national average of electricity cost)
  • The range of operating similar models
  • The Energy Star logo. This indicates that the model meets the energy efficiency criteria (If the appliance you are considering has the Blue Energy Star logo, it means that it is 20% – 30% more efficient than an appliance without the Energy Star label, additionally it means that it qualifies for a rebate incentive).
  • Other key features
I’ve made the following guide to make it even easier for you to understand how to read the Energy guide label:


Thanks to the Energy Star program millions of consumers have an easy way to understand the impact of an appliance when they go shopping.

With the Energyguide label, now it’s even easier to know a product features, its performance compared to similar products in the same vertical and its environmental impact. 

If you do still have some questions left, or you think that I left any details uncovered. Feel free to reach out or leave me a comment on this article and I will do my best to update it.


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