March 26, 2010— -- When you see the Energy Star seal on a product, you assume you are saving energy – and money. That has now been questioned after an undercover investigation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The investigation showed the government's 18-year-old Energy Star program may be awarding the label to products that don't deserve it. The GAO set up fake companies -- and found it was easy to get the Energy Star rating for their fake products because there is very little verification.
"I think the American public has a right to know what the program is and isn't at this point," the GAO's Greg Kurtz told ABC News. "And right now for many of the products it's a self-certification process."
GAO investigators set up four fake companies – complete with Web sites – and submitted Energy Star applications for their fictitious products. Fifteen bogus products were awarded the Energy Star seal. They included a foot-and-a-half-high gasoline-powered alarm clock and an air purifier that was actually a space heater with a feather duster glued on top.
"Our air purifier with a feather duster on top of a space heater is a pretty ridiculous product that was easily certified," said Kurtz.
The GAO's products were fake, but the implications are real. LG and Kenmore were recently caught selling refrigerators with the Energy Star label that did not actually meet the standard. The companies later reimbursed consumers and sent them kits to improve the efficiency of their refrigerators.
One consumer, Scott Case, told ABC News, "So I spent $2,500 on an appliance, thinking it was going to help reduce my electricity cost and reduce my global warming footprint and it doesn't even come close."
The government says it will now start testing products before awarding the coveted Energy Star seal.