Our offices are on the top floor of a three-story building constructed in 1987. Our floor is wrapped with a band of large aluminum-framed windows, which apparently is not air-tight. As winter settles in and cold winds blow, offices on the perimeter can be quite drafty. Several occupants sneak in contraband space heaters and hide them in their desk’s knee spaces. One editor in a corner office tries to seal the leaks with package tape.
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Passing through the main floor lobby, I recently noticed the addition of a small plaque declaring the building to be EPA “Energy Star Rated.” Apparently it didn’t earn five stars.
Over the past few years, ratings and approval programs from EPA to EnergyStar have been regularly criticized as irrelevant, misleading or vulnerable to fraud. Congressional auditors posing as manufacturers were able to obtain EnergyStar credentials for bogus products including a “gasoline-powered alarm clock” and an “air purifier” consisting of an electric space heater with a feather duster glued to the top.
Back in October 2008, Consumer Reports magazine reported that South Korean-made LG refrigerators didn't meet the efficiency claims of their EnergyStar ratings. Icemakers are shut off during the DOE tests, but on the LG machines, that also shut off cooling to the ice compartment, which Consumer Reports declared “an unrealistic use.”
EPA gas-mileage ratings have been notoriously misleading since day one. Fudge factors implemented over time have made the agency’s conventional-car MPG numbers more realistic, but ratings on hybrids remain erratically optimistic, and I’ve yet to find an understandable explanation of the numbers on plug-in vehicles.
Examples like this have made me cynical about energy ratings and awards, so at first I wasn’t impressed by the U.S. Department of Energy’s December 9 announcement of the first industrial plants in the country to be certified under the Superior Energy Performance program.
Then I read that the program is accredited by the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and aimed at helping companies conform to the upcoming International Organization for Standardization (ISO) 50001 energy management system standard. ISO has identified energy management as a priority for its significant potential to save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions worldwide. Based on broad applicability across national economic sectors, the ISO 50001 standard could eventually influence up to 60% of the world's energy demand.
The Superior Energy Performance program, led by the U.S. Council for Energy Efficient Manufacturing with support from DOE, is the basis for the Global Superior Energy Performance initiative, a multi-country effort to create and harmonize nationally accredited energy performance certification programs.
These world-class intentions are impressive, and reflect well on the first companies to receive the awards: Cook Composites and Polymers Co., Freescale Semiconductor Inc., and Owens Corning. All three were certified in a pilot program that began in May 2008 as a partnership between DOE and Texas Industries of the Future, located at the University of Texas at Austin.
The program recognizes two types of member companies: Partner and Certified Partner. Both must conform to its energy management standard, measure energy performance improvements, and achieve specific levels of improvement. Partners are self-audited; certified partners must be third-party audited.
Certified partners may achieve three levels of certification, silver, gold or platinum, depending on how much they improve energy performance and how well they implement energy-management best practices. The program recognizes the difference between companies that are just starting out to improve efficiency (with lots of low-hanging fruit) and companies that have been paring energy consumption for years by defining two sets of criteria: the Energy Performance pathway and the Mature Energy pathway.
It’s important to encourage as many companies as possible to measure their energy performance and examine their energy management practices, so if being a Partner in the Superior Energy Performance Program will gain management support and put a smile on the face of the VP of Marketing, it’s the least you can do.
But unless you’re going to get certified, you might want to hang onto a roll of tape.