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By Tamara Chuang

RISMEDIA, May 1, 2008-(MCT)-Although energy-efficient devices may carry a heftier price tag than their less environmentally conscious counterparts, going green doesn’t always mean that you’ll spend more money. It could mean saving money.

Energy Star, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary program that rates home appliances for energy savings, also includes computers, and that little blue label can indicate whether a PC will lower your energy bills.

In fact, computers were the first products to qualify for the EPA’s Energy Star label in 1992, said Maria Vargas, Energy Star’s director of communications. The program added tougher restrictions in July, so certified computers use 20% to 50% less energy than their uncertified counterparts. Today, there are 180 million Energy Star computers and 497 available models.

Initially, Energy Star labels weren’t required for computers. Now the logo appears when a computer boots up, and it is on product literature and packaging.

Another reason was lack of incentive. PC makers focused on government users, instead of consumers, because the federal government required all of its computers to be Energy Star-certified. Consumer PCs have historically focused on marketing speed and performance.

While an Energy Star computer shouldn’t cost more than others, long-term monetary savings aren’t substantial.

Vargas estimates that, with the newly revised requirements, an Energy Star desktop computer saves $30 to $60 on a user’s energy bill during the life of the computer. She didn’t have an estimate for laptops.

“The benefit comes from knowing the purchase is a contribution to becoming more energy-efficient,” Vargas said. “We don’t want to say that you will save enough to go on vacation. It’s just smart to do.”

According to the EPA, if every home and business user nationwide replaced their old computers with new Energy Star ones, we would save “more than $1.8 billion in energy costs over the next five years and avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to more than 2.7 million cars.”

These days, it’s difficult to find a tech company that doesn’t have a green policy, said Steve Baker, an analyst with market researcher The NPD Group.

He doesn’t believe consumers are buying computers based on environmental incentives. Companies, however, are caving in to peer pressure and going green, he said.

“It’s much more about trying to avoid the negative. Remember the hit Apple took when Greenpeace went after them? It wasn’t a positive. Apple had to tell people about all the good stuff they did. Everybody has to do this because if you don’t your competitors will market against it saying you don’t do this,” Baker said.

Energy Star’s new criteria require energy-efficiency features for all modes of operation – off, sleep mode and active and running. Also new, the internal power supply must be at least 80% efficient. A detailed explanation of efficiency standards is available on the EPA website at www.energystar.gov.

In November, more than 35 manufacturers were part of the program, according to Energy Star. Today, it’s 48 manufacturers.

Consumers interested in an Energy Star computer should look for the blue label. Shoppers also can search the program’s site, which offers a clunky finder tool at the bottom of the page.

The list is constantly changing and is supposed to include only available models. Energy Star also rates monitors, printers and scanners. Game consoles are included, but apparently none have been approved.

Another EPA factoid: For every 100 computers a business replaces with models meeting the new Energy Star specification, it will save $175 per year on energy bills and more than $670 over the lifetime of the computers.

In November, Energy Star will update its television program. Energy Star TVs will need to be 30% more efficient than conventional TVs to get the blue label. They also must save energy when turned on and off (previously, Energy Star just looked at televisions in the off mode).

According to the EPA, if all televisions sold in the U.S. met the new requirement, the savings in energy costs would be $1 billion annually and greenhouse gas emissions would be reduced by the equivalent of 1 million cars.

Ā© 2008, The Orange County Register (Santa Ana, Calif.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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