A fake gas-powered alarm clock once got Energy Star certification

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When an appliance gets Energy Star certification that's supposed to mean that it's environmentally friendly. But what happens when you submit fake products like a gasoline-powered alarm clock or the "air purifier" pictured above? A government audit in 2010 found that both of these ridiculous products were certified as energy efficient. And yes, that "air purifier" is just a space heater with a feather duster crudely taped to the side.

Energy Star was started in 1992 by the EPA as a voluntary labeling program to encourage the consumption of more energy-efficient appliances. But a 2010 investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that virtually anything could get certified.

The GAO report from 2010 is pretty damning. The agency sent out twenty different products for certification under fake company names. Of those twenty outrageous products, 15 were approved, 2 were denied, and 3 didn't have a verdict by the time they issued their report.


When confronted with the evidence that their entire program was a sham, the EPA and Department of Energy said that it was a robot's fault — basically admitting that the Energy Star seal meant nothing since it was an automated system that simply rubber-stamped anything that came through.

From the March 26, 2010 New York Times:

Watchdogs within the Environment Protection Agency and the Department of Energy have reported in the past that Energy Star has taken some claims of energy efficiency on faith. Yet the new study suggests that it often does so on remote control.

Congressional auditors said they were told by EnergyStar officials that some of the approvals, including the one for the gasoline alarm clock, had been issued by an automated system and that the details had probably never been reviewed by a human being.

Ms. Vargas added that the automated system that green-lighted the clock was only a preliminary "screen" to evaluate energy figures submitted by manufacturers and to cut out products that did not qualify. Every product that is certified is reviewed by a human being, she said.

The following month, the feds said that they would tighten the procedures for Energy Star certification. One can't help but wonder how they'd perform using the same products here almost five years later.

The description of the gas-powered clock radio that the GAO submitted for certification really takes the cake: "Gas-powered clock radio is sleek, durable, easy on your electric bill, and surprisingly quiet."


Surprisingly quiet indeed. If you had a gas-powered alarm clock in your room there's a good chance you wouldn't wake up at all, given the likelihood of carbon monoxide poisoning.


Image: A product billed as an air room cleaner that was actually a space heater with a feather duster and fly strips attached, submitted for Energy Star certification in 2010 via Associated Press