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Energy Star undergoes overhaul, as survey questions future of certification system

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy are expanding the testing of products under the Energy Star program, and especially relevant action considering the release of a new consumer survey revealing perceptions of the Energy Star label.

Under the new initiative, the EPA and DOE have begun third-party testing of the six most common types of appliances certified under the Energy Star brand: freezers, refrigerator-freezers, clothes washers, dishwashers, water heaters and room air conditioners. The agencies are also continuing their practice of spot checks.

The two agencies are also stepping up enforcement activities to make sure that manufacturers are really complying with the requirements of the brand. In the past four months, the agencies have taken action against 35 manufacturers that haven't come up to snuff.

It's a good thing the government is being proactive because a new survey by marketing organization Ecoalign finds that more than 90 percent of American consumers would like to see the Energy Star labeling system to continue evolving, with a tiered approach that recognizes different levels of energy efficiency. The survey was based on more than 1,000 online interviews conducted in February 2010.

Most of the respondents were extremely aware of the Energy Star brand. Although the label carried more awareness among men than women, women were more likely to require Energy Star certification when making bigger home improvement investments. Another telling sign that Energy Star needs to evolve: significantly more older Americans (those more than 55 years old) thought that Energy Star was extremely important than younger Americans (between 18 and 34 years old) who thought the same.

How are organizations using Energy Star to their advantage already? The EPA actually just announced its 2010 Energy Star award winners, which include manufacturers, public schools, hospitals, real estate agencies and others. There are three sets of winners: Sustained Excellence (a list of 50 organizations), Partner of the Year, and Excellence.

The EPA claims that Energy Star programs and technologies helped save nearly $17 billion on energy bills in 2009, the equivalent of the greenhouse gas emissions of 30 million vehicles.