Anyone who’s bought a dishwasher in the past 20 years knows the square blue Energy Star logo designating certain models as highly energy efficient. In pure market-reach terms, the logo has a remarkable brand recognition — approaching 90%.
It’s also universally popular — trusted by consumers and valued by businesses. So it’s doubly puzzling that the Trump administration recently proposed eliminating the federally run program in its budget.
Energy Star is a voluntary public-private partnership that costs taxpayers about $50 million a year to administer. That investment is paying huge dividends. In 2015 alone, it returned more than $34 billion to American consumers and businesses in reduced energy bills, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which administers Energy Star. That’s a return of about $680 in benefits for every $1 in taxpayer expense.
And that’s just the consumer benefits. Energy Star is fueling innovation in manufacturing and creating jobs, having catalyzed more than $165 billion in private sector investment since it began in 1992.
At a time when the nation is extremely polarized on environmental protections, Energy Star is also a silent powerhouse on clean air and climate change — a noncontroversial, cost-effective way to keep 2.7 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere.
That’s more than twice the carbon reduction we’d get from eliminating the energy use of every US household for an entire year.
Other benefits include reduced stress on overloaded grids. Energy Star appliances use 5% to 25% less energy than nonqualified products, reducing peak electricity demand. This is why many utilities and other programs around the country offer rebates for Energy Star products.
This all helps explain why so many people opt for Energy Star products: They are in almost half of all US homes. More than 16,000 companies and organizations have voluntarily joined the program — including leading appliance makers and retailers such as Lowe’s and Home Depot. As a Home Depot vice president, Ron Jarvis, said last year, “The products are driving savings and creating value for our customers; it’s a win-win for economics and the environment.”
All of this without government mandates. Energy Star is completely voluntary. Consumers can choose to buy an Energy Star product or not. Manufacturers and retailers can join the program or stay out of it as they see fit. That’s why it is viewed around the world as the gold standard for public-private partnerships.
So why does the new administration want to get rid of it? The only answer seems to be blind ideology. The program has appeared on so-called hit lists of hard-line think tanks that seem not to let reality get in the way of a myopic vision for smaller government — whether it’s working or not.
I’m all for reducing the size of government. But we should do so where it makes sense. Energy Star was begun during George H.W. Bush’s administration and has operated successfully through several administration changes and power shifts in Congress. As the saying goes: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.
The Energy Star system is more than unbroken. It’s a model around the world for a successful government initiative, and we should do everything we can to keep it that way.