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CEEA’s Efficiency Matters Blog

How energy efficiency standards can drive product innovation

By Elizabeth McDonald

This is not a sexy conversation but it’s a critical one. We need comprehensive, progressive energy efficiency standards that consumers can relate to, not just from an environmental point of view, but from an economical one as well. Consumers have changed over the past few years. They do not all walk around with a green agenda. Yes they care about the environment, but they’re practical, they want to save money and ensure they’re getting the best deal. There’s an opportunity here to create and improve products that will deliver better standards and ultimately better, energy-efficient products to savvy, budget-conscious consumers.

That’s what I shared with people this week in Calgary at CSA Group’s annual conference Moving From Now to Next: Achieving Sustainable Growth Through Standards. The truth is that many Canadians are providing lip service when it comes to the environment. Our Gandalf survey Energy Efficiency & Canadians concluded that most Canadians believe that conservation efforts result in cost savings and benefit the environment, but fewer are actually working hard to conserve.

The benefits of standards
The beauty of energy efficiency standards is they can deliver environmental benefits and cheaper costs over the long-term. Standards ensure reliability and uniformity. When it comes to appliances and equipment purchased for homes or offices, they guarantee experts have tested them and in many cases, demonstrate how they save money over a lifetime.

Signs of success
Appliances by a long-shot are where we’ve made the most progress. The ENERGY STAR® label is well known around the world for its blue and white sticker which means the product exceeds the minimum efficiency standards. Standards are the foundation of ENERGY STAR®.

According to the Environmental Commissioner of Ontario an average set of major appliances purchased today uses only half of the energy they would have 20 years ago. One of ENERGY STAR®’s initial successes here was the exit sign. Those illuminated signs were in the first group of products covered by ENERGY STAR® in Canada in 2001, which promoted using new LED technology. With annual energy savings of $20 to $30 per sign and a longer lifespan most building owners made the switch. But that wasn’t enough for Natural Resources Canada. The agency noticed that about one-third of new exit signs were not actually meeting the ENERGY STAR® level. So in 2004 the agency set a minimum energy performance standard that matched the ENERGY STAR® qualification and the market evolved. This story is highlighted in ENERGY STAR®’s recent annual report.

New standards on the horizon
We have new regulations and standards coming in for lighting at the end of this year, eliminating incandescent bulbs and using CFL and LED bulbs. And that change will really make a difference. The Ontario environmental commissioner notes that the two-year delay of the transition is estimated to have cost Canadians $300 million and will put an additional 13 million tons of carbon dioxide into the air.

The CSA Group recently joined the Home Appliance Manufacturers (AHAM) and UL (Underwriters Laboratories) to create the first voluntary sustainability standard for household washing machines. Its intention: identify environmentally preferable products through a lifecycle approach. The standard addresses the impact of washing machines in six areas: materials, manufacturing and operations, energy and water consumption during use, end-of-life, consumables, and innovation.

You can also expect to see new ENERGY STAR® technical specs or updates for set-top boxes, residential water heaters, refrigerators and data centre storage. They’re in the drafting stage.

Collaboration breeds success
Our successes would be impossible without collaboration. The CSA Group’s latest effort included consulting stakeholders, the EPA, Environment Canada, The Sustainability Consortium, Consumer’s Union, and retailers (Sears, Best Buy, and Lowe’s), and environmental, among others. And that’s just to design a standard. How do you get people to understand them? That requires the grassroots level – the frontline of retailers and installers. Sears is known for its excellence in training staff about their product lines. And ENERGY STAR® understands that technicians can be a weak link when it comes to installing energy efficient windows, doors and skylights. That’s why NRCan and CSA Group are working to develop a certification program for installers of ENERGY STAR®-qualified fenestration products.

What CEEA can do
CEEA wants to continue to work and support CSA Group’s efforts as a partner. We want to ensure our energy efficiency messages educate Canadians. And we understand Canadians care about the environment, but that they also care about costs. Our successes show we need to collaborate – CEEA, utilities and governments – to inform Canadians about how they can easily practice conservation. And voluntary standards make that conservation possible. They also make industries proactive and innovative. When we successfully initiate and promote good standards we become part of the decision-making process. And Canadians become active participants in energy conservation.

Posted June 20, 2013

Elizabeth is the president of CEEA.

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