Promote Efficient Buildings and Appliances

For almost four decades, efficiency standards for appliances and buildings have proven to be one of the country’s most successful energy-policy tools. The savings from national appliance efficiency standards have been estimated at more than $1 trillion, and America’s electricity consumption is expected to drop by 14 percent by 2035. Not only have these standards saved consumers money and cut energy use, but they have also sparked innovation, created jobs, and reduced the pollution that causes climate change.

Rooftop solar panels in suburban neighborhood, Colorado
Topher Donahue/Aurora Photos/Offset

NRDC has a long track record of securing energy-efficiency standards. Since our experts helped spur the first efficiency improvements in refrigerators in the 1970s—an effort that prompted these former energy hogs to use more than 80 percent less energy today than back then—we have helped enact similar standards for more than 50 products, ranging from dishwashers to external power supplies to lighting to electric motors. Building on our successes in the United States, NRDC also works with partners in China, India, Latin America, and Europe to create strong building and appliance standards.

Sometimes we negotiate directly with manufacturers to develop consensus efficiency standards that drive rapid improvements across an industry. We also work with state and national agencies to set binding standards. NRDC has a 40-year history of serving as the lead environmental advocate supporting the California Energy Commission’s standards process, for example. And because one in eight American consumers lives in that state, many manufacturers start meeting these minimum efficiency standards for all their U.S. markets.

At times, NRDC uses state progress to push for stronger national and global action. We pushed the U.S. Department of Energy to create standards for more than 50 types of household appliances and commercial products that account for about 90 percent of residential energy use, 60 percent of commercial, and 29 percent of industrial usage. When necessary, we litigate to protect consumers from unnecessary energy waste, which also leads to unnecessary electricity production and pollution.

In addition, we work on developing methods to test the efficiency of specific products under state and federal standards; perform field studies to determine the energy-savings opportunities within a particular product category; and support stronger guidelines under the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary Energy Star–labeling program to help consumers identify the highest-performing models on the market. We also work with utilities to identify and promote—or even cause manufacturers to develop—the most efficient models, such as encouraging the use of rebates to jump-start their sales.

We also work to integrate efficiency improvements into building codes, proposing standards to reduce energy use through improvements such as more efficient windows, insulation, and lighting in both new construction and renovations. A recent update in California's standards, for instance, will require homes to be 30 percent more efficient by 2017. California has set a goal that all new homes will be zero net energy—producing as much energy as they consume over the course of a year—by 2020.

At the national level, we collaborate with allies to strengthen the model building codes that states use to shape their own standards, offering comments and demonstrating that stronger standards are possible and beneficial. This effort resulted in model codes in 2015, doubling the energy efficiency of new construction compared to the 1970s.

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