Home / Articles / Features / Earth Talk / Earth Talk
Print this Article
Wednesday, March 1, 2006 10:01 pm

Earth Talk

From the editors of E/The Environmental Magazine

Dear “Earth Talk”: Do government “Energy Star” ratings for major appliances take into account their “cradle-to-grave” impacts, or are they just concerned with energy efficiency? — Fred von Mechow, by e-mail
The Energy Star program, set up back in 1992, is designed to help consumers determine the energy efficiency of various appliances, home electronics, office equipment, and lighting. All such items for sale in the United States come with an “Energy Guide” label, which indicates how much energy they will consume over the course of a typical year and how much that energy will cost, detailing how it compares to similar models. Those units that are especially energy-efficient — as judged against standards set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy — receive an Energy Star, indicating that they are preferred environmental choices. Clearly the program is designed as an incentive for competing brands to lower their products’ energy consumption and costs over time. The program is helpful to consumers who want to do the right thing environmentally while also saving on energy bills, but it is not a cradle-to-grave assessment. “Cradle-to-grave,” as the term implies, measures an appliance’s environmental impact over the course of its entire life, and it counts other factors besides energy use and costs. German and Scandinavian manufacturers, for example, thanks to stringent “extended producer responsibility” laws in place there, must do more than maximize the energy efficiency of their products. They must also eliminate hazardous materials from both the appliances’ components and their manufacturing processes (i.e., “cradle”) and make them in such a way that maximizes their recyclability and reusability so as to keep them out of landfills (i.e., “grave”). In fact, European EPR laws even require companies to take back some of their products at the ends of their useful lives, removing the burden from the consumer and from local community waste-handling systems. And with passage last year of Directive 2005/32/EC by the European Union, similar laws will apply for any manufacturer — domestic or otherwise — that wants to sell appliances to Europe’s 400 million-strong consumer market. The goal is to encourage manufacturers to assess the full life-cycle impact of their products, which would ideally also lead to the elimination of unnecessary parts and of wasteful, extraneous packaging. The directive becomes law across the continent in 2007. Meanwhile, strong industry lobbies have thus far prevented similar legislation from taking hold in the United States, though some state and local governments have expressed interest in European-style take-back laws. A few forward-thinking computer makers, including IBM and Hewlett-Packard, have started take-back programs voluntarily to salvage some components for reuse while looking good to environmentally conscious consumers. For the most part, though, the trend has not caught on for American manufacturers, and there are no laws in place to force them to abandon that age-old and not-so-green-friendly principle of “planned obsolescence.”
For more information: Energy Star, www.energystar.gov; European Union Directive 2005/32/EC, europa.eu.int/comm/enterprise/eco_design/
Send questions to “Earth Talk” in care of E/The Environmental Magazine, P.O. Box 5098, Westport, CT 06881 or e-mail earthtalk@emagazine.com.
Log in to use your Facebook account with
IllinoisTimes

Login With Facebook Account



Recent Activity on IllinoisTimes

Calendar

  • Mon
    20
  • Tue
    21
  • Wed
    22
  • Thu
    23
  • Fri
    24
  • Sat
    25
  • Sun
    26