Helping Americans Choose Efficient Products with Energy Star’s Kristinn Leonhart

October 4, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored to have with us on the line today Kristinn Leonhart. She’s the Energy Star Brand Manager with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency — the U.S. EPA. Welcome to Green is Good, Kristinn. KRISTINN LEONHART: Thank you so much, John. I appreciate it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: You know, Kristinn, we’ve never covered this issue before, but everyone should be, if they’re not already, familiar with the wonderful and important Energy Star brand, logo and icon and this is an important segment of our show. We’re so glad you came on today. Before we get to talking about the important work that you do at the U.S. EPA on Energy Star, can you share a little bit about your journey and your story? Because there’s so many young people in the United States and around the world, frankly, that want to become part of the sustainability revolution, but they want to be inspired and want to understand how do other people do it, so can you share a little bit about your journey before we get into your great work? KRISTINN LEONHART: Sure. I’d be happy to. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Thank you. KRISTINN LEONHART: Sure, so I just always loved writing and editing and to be honest, when I was younger, I just thought man, one day, if I can get paid to write and edit, what a great job that would be because I do it all the time anyway, so how about I get paid to do it so through several different jobs, at some point, I think I realized this isn’t as intrinsically rewarding and I’ve learned as much as I could possibly learn editing college textbooks on certain topics so I actually applied to the U.S. Government. My husband at the time worked for the government and he went on and on about the great benefits and job security and all of the wonderful benefits and so I decided to apply to USA Jobs and actually, one of the first jobs I applied to was for the Environmental Protection Agency as a writer/editor and I’ve been incredibly happy in this job because it is a wonderful and rewarding experience. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wonderful, and we’re so glad to have you there. We need great people like you to do important work like this. Talk a little bit about Energy Star though. That’s a name that I’m familiar with because I see it on my electronics, but I really don’t know much about it so can you start with the what is Energy Star? KRISTINN LEONHART: Sure thing. Launched way back in 1992 by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Energy Star is a voluntary partnership with industry that helps consumers easily identify the most energy-efficient products and practices, so that little blue label that is now recognized by 87% of American consumers, a fact we’re quite proud of at the EPA. We have more than 18,000 partners all committed to improving the energy efficiency of products, homes, and buildings. A lot of people don’t realize we also label homes and buildings and the label can now be found on 65 different product categories. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Good for you, and for our listeners out there, Kristinn, I’m on your wonderful and informative website. It’s www.energystar.gov. You can learn all about everything we’re going to discuss here with Kristinn. Why did you guys launch this? Why is this so important and what’s the big deal about avoiding greenhouse gases and this whole climate change thing? What’s the nexus between all that, Energy Star and climate change and greenhouse gases and avoiding them? KRISTINN LEONHART: Sure, so significant opportunity for adjusting climate change exists when we’re helping consumers and businesses save energy through Energy Star. Energy used in homes, buildings and industry accounts for two-thirds of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. Energy Star has been instrumental in reducing this energy use and in order to strengthen our economy and realize significant greenhouse gas emissions reductions. Our benefits have grown steadily over time, nearly tripling in the last decade. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and you listed all the products that now Energy Star is on. It’s not just electronics anymore. How does one earn an Energy Star certification? If I’m a manufacturer of a certain product and I want that Good Housekeeping seal of approval, that Energy Star seal of approval, how do I earn that? KRISTINN LEONHART: Well, products that have earned the Energy Star label have to meet strict guidelines by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Energy savings are independently certified based on testing performed by EPA recognized laboratories and they’re subject to ongoing verification testing, so I think that’s why American consumers really trust the label. Our third-party certification ensures that Energy Star remains a trusted symbol of energy efficiency. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, when I’m buying Energy Star product, what can I expect? I buy it. I always look for that brand, frankly, and I’m just Joe Consumer, but I do always look for it but tell me the differential between buying an Energy Star-certified product and a non-product. What can I expect the impact will be because I bought an Energy Star product? KRISTINN LEONHART: You can expect that you’re going to be saving energy and money and that it’s going to be a better-quality product overall. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, we’re going to save energy. We’re going to save money, which is good for my pocketbook. Save energy, good for the environment as a whole, and it’s just going to be a better product. The less obsolescence. The product will stay better and work longer than the other product that didn’t have that seal of approval. KRISTINN LEONHART: You’ve got it. Obviously, from our standpoint, we’re most interested in protecting the environment, so saving energy helps reduce those greenhouse gas emissions but we honestly don’t care if consumers are buying them because they’re going to save them money. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m sure a lot of products are put in front of you now because all manufacturers now want to be part of this whole green revolution, sustainable revolution, environmental revolution, whatever you want to call it. How does the Energy Star, how do the great people that you work with, Kristinn, go about picking the top performers in these categories? KRISTINN LEONHART: Well, you know, one of the things we like to tell consumers is just even with all the new choices out there, it’s still simple. Look for the Energy Star for energy savings but take lighting, for instance. No matter the technology or the energy claims, only bulbs with the Energy Star label meet our strict guidelines for efficiency and performance that set them apart, so Energy Star means high quality and performance. Bulbs with that label have undergone extensive testing to make sure that they save you energy and that they perform properly. We put them through rigorous testing. There’s over 20 different tests that are lighting and that’s just one example. Each product has a different specification. I don’t want to bore you to death but if you want more specification on any of our specs, you can go on our website and learn much, much more. JOHN SHEGERIAN: ,he website is EnergyStar.com. Wait a second. I thought at the top of the show, you sort of knocked me off my chair here. You even say homes have Energy Star ratings now and seal of approval. KRISTINN LEONHART: That’s right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s amazing. KRISTINN LEONHART: A lot of people I talk to don’t realize that homes and commercial and industrial buildings and we’ve been doing that from pretty early on in the program so it always kind of amazes me that folks don’t know so I’m excited to share but the Energy Star label on a home means that it has undergone the better process of inspections, testing, and certification to make sure that it means strict requirements set by s at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. We estimate that homes earning the label use 15 to 30% less energy than typical homes built to code and even more when compared to most existing homes already on the market. JOHN SHEGERIAN: How about on the commercial industrial side of the equation? KRISTINN LEONHART: The commercial industrial side, first off, energy that’s in commercial buildings accounts for nearly 20% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, which is a huge reason we’re involved at the EPA but on average, 30% of that energy being used is being wastes so buildings that earn our Energy Star certification consume, on average, about 30% less energy than typical buildings and they can be 35% fewer greenhouse gas emissions while providing the same or better services and comfort so saving energy in these sectors is similar to saving energy at home. It’s about turning off the lights and the lamps when leaving the room, powering down computers when they’re not in use, unplugging chargers from the wall after the cell phone’s already charged. Engineers in buildings can make huge differences. They can make sure all of the building systems, such as the air conditioning, the heating, the lighting, they’re all working properly, properly maintained, being upgraded to more efficient technologies when appropriate and cost effective. For our part, we have this tool called the Energy Star Portfolio Manager that helps buildings, commercial buildings, understand where their energy use is going and it’s like anything else. If you can’t see how much you’re using, it’s very difficult to reduce it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s measurable is manageable, right? KRISTINN LEONHART: That’s right. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, you know, just again, for our listeners, EnergyStar.gov. This is amazing. I’m on the site now. You have the products listed. You have the energy savings you could do at home for new homes and also buildings and plants so it’s so full of great information here. You guys have built a beautiful and really informative website and I really urge our listeners to go there and learn more and get involved. Let me ask you this. New products, you said what? About 65 products now are covered by Energy Star? KRISTINN LEONHART: That’s 65 product categories. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Categories. So, any new categories coming on? KRISTINN LEONHART: Actually, yeah. We’re really excited about we’re tackling — I feel like a lot of people we talk to tell me they think we already label dryers. They think my dryer at home is Energy Star certified. Well, that’s not actually the case. It hasn’t been true as of yet, so we’re really excited because that’s the next category we’re tackling, so you should look for Energy Star-labeled clothes dryers in the coming year. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Kristinn, I’m one of these guys that you say no one knows that homes are covered. I’m on of those people that didn’t know homes were covered. Then I thought my dryer was covered. Now you tell me my dryer isn’t covered. I’m this person that you keep talking about. I’m clearly embarrassed. KRISTINN LEONHART: No, no, no, don’t be. Please don’t be. I’m excited to share news. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m so glad you came on the show because we need you spreading the good word. This is too important so talk about what’s going on in the future here in terms of recent projects you’re working on in terms of making businesses more energy efficient and what’s the future for Energy Star? Listen. In so many ways, the sustainability revolution and environmental work in America is just really picking up velocity. You’ve been around a long time but there’s still so much to do. What’s next? KRISTINN LEONHART: Well, we’re always looking at new product categories. One that I probably should’ve mentioned was pool pumps so we just labeled our first pool pump so if you have a pool in your backyard, you might want to look at Energy Star pool pumps are 70 to 30% more energy efficient than the standard models and they can save consumers about $160 each year after investing in one and thousands of dollars, obviously, over the product’s lifetime. JOHN SHEGERIAN: What’s so cool, Kristinn, about your work and what you’re saying today and the message is to everyone always thought it was more expensive to be green, to be environmental, to be sustainable, but really, what you keep saying in your message is do the right thing. Buy an Energy Star-certified product. Not only are you doing the right thing for the environment but you’re saving money in all these different categories. KRISTINN LEONHART: Absolutely. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so great. That is so wonderful. You know, listen. We love to give solutions here. We have two minutes left, and we’re so thankful for your time today. What else can consumers out there do to protect our climate and save energy out there? KRISTINN LEONHART: Well, I would say come to the EnergyStar.gov website and learn more. You asked about the future of Energy Star. We’re really trying to become more of a resource for Americans on energy efficiency so we’re full of statistics so I’m going to spout out another one. The average family spends nearly $2,000 a year on their energy bills and nearly half of that goes to heating and cooling so you can come to our site for all kinds of great tips on how to reduce your energy bills. If you just replace your home’s five most frequently used light fixtures with models that have earned the Energy Star, you can save $75 each year. That’s not just this year but that’s each year after this year and the average home has approximately 30 light fixture and spends about 12% of its electricity bill on lighting. Here’s another fast fact. Lighting accounts for more energy than you use for your laundry equipment, your refrigerator and your dishwasher combined. That stat tends to impress people when I use it. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wonderful. We’re going to have you back on, Kristinn, to talk about your great work. For our listeners out there, go to www.energystar.gov. Buy products. Pool pumps are coming. Dryers are coming and, of course, homes are already covered so what we’ve learned today with Kristinn is you buy Energy Star products. You go green. You save green. Kristinn Leonhart, you are an inspirational environmental leader and truly living proof that green is good. KRISTINN LEONHART: Thank you so much.