Energy efficiency standards help businesses thrive and consumers save

Imagine a strategy that helps businesses streamline their operations and create better, more competitive products. Imagine if that same strategy also has allowed consumers and business to save trillions of dollars. Now imagine that this strategy is actually being used successfully across dozens of industries and thousands of companies and has exceeded all expectations. 

The good news is, it’s not our imagination — it’s strategic standardization, and it’s an effective tool for fueling innovation and business growth in the United States.

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Standards and conformity assessment help to ensure safety and performance of products, processes, and systems; foster acceptance across state and national borders; and increase efficiency. They help businesses reduce R&D costs, streamline processes, and advance technology to create new and better products — from the JPEG files we use to send photos over the internet, to the life-saving technology of linking medical records. In fact, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) ranked the promulgation of standards among the top-10 engineering accomplishments of the last century — right up there with the automobile and airplane.  

Business leaders get on board with standards because they know that clear, effective standards provide a solid foundation for market growth. Since standards are performance based, and don’t prescribe one particular design or technology over another, they help drive innovation. When everyone plays by the same rules, manufacturers can be assured they will be competing on a level playing field —and up their game to create new and better products.  

Standards aren’t created in a vacuum. The American National Standards Institute (ANSI), a private non-profit organization, administers and coordinates the U.S. voluntary standards and conformity assessment system, working in close collaboration with stakeholders from industry, government, consumer groups, academia, and other interests to identify and develop standards and conformance–based solutions to national and global priorities.   

There are many types of standards, including the consensus standards that ANSI oversees and the mandatory ones set by government agencies, which also work with various stakeholder groups to develop them in a transparent public process. 

For example, federal energy efficiency standards — often started as voluntary standards by private-sector organizations via the ANSI process and then used as an important input into federal guidelines — have saved billions of dollars for U.S. consumers and business over the past 30 years, while boosting innovation and competitiveness for U.S. industry. By 2030, efficiency standards will have saved a cumulative $1.8 trillion on the energy bills for America’s households, businesses, and industries.

It seems indisputable that energy efficiency standards are a tremendous success; lawmakers would be hard-pressed to find a more innovative, cost-effective, bipartisan example of good governance. Yet some detractors have recently come out against our use of standards, whether for ensuring the safety of the air we breathe, the water we drink, or determining how much energy a ceiling fan can use. They claim standards are bad for business — when, in fact, standards have a history not only of protecting consumers, but benefitting businesses as well.  

Before the first energy efficiency standards for refrigerators were put in place in California in 1976, the fridge was the biggest energy hog in the home. But as standards began guiding manufacturers to develop more efficient models, consumers became educated about energy use, and the market for innovative technologies grew.  

The most recent set of energy standards for refrigerators were jointly proposed by the industry and efficiency experts working together. The same goes for dishwashers, air conditioners, electric motors, and more—refrigerator standards are just one example of dozens of money-saving energy efficiency standards for appliances and equipment that have been put into place over the past three decades. In total, these energy efficiency standards are projected to increase annual energy savings by more than 75 percent over the next decade. That’s a triple win — for businesses, consumers, and the environment. 

Energy efficiency standards are highly successful, strategic measures that have delivered on their promise of spurring cost savings and product innovation across multiple industries, from appliances to automation to automobiles. Like thousands of other standards developed by collaborations of experts and stakeholders in response to government, societal, and industry needs, efficiency standards create better markets for business, stronger products for consumers, and a safer environment for all.  

For dozens more real-world examples of the power of standards to streamline processes, fuel innovation, and boost the bottom line, visit www.standardsboostbusiness.org.

Goldstein is energy program co-director of the Natural Resources Defense Council. Knopes is a senior manager at the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). He is a member of ANSI’s team that is focused on U.S. engagement in the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), where ANSI serves as the U.S. member body.