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Conversation with Maura Beard of the U.S. EPA

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Can you give us a brief overview of the EPA’s ENERGY STAR program and its objectives?

Maura Beard_EPA_headshot 1 ENERGY STAR was established in 1992 by the EPA to help businesses and consumers become more energy efficient and help fight global warming. With more than 15 years of experience, we’ve made tremendous progress in the marketplace. ENERGY STAR is recognized by more than 70 percent of Americans and identifies products in more than 50 categories, including refrigerators, dishwashers and office equipment. What’s really exciting is that in the past 10 years, ENERGY STAR has moved beyond products for your home or office to labeling entire homes and buildings as energy efficient. These are the places where we live, work, play and learn every day – such as our homes, schools, hotels, hospitals, offices and other buildings in our communities. EPAs ENERGY STAR program is working with American businesses and consumers in many ways to save energy and help the environment.

Is it important to simplify these standards for customers?

I think it’s important that consumers can have a brand that they can look to and recognize and trust. Right now is a time of increased focus on the environment – which is wonderful to see – but with all that energy and attention on the environment, it can be difficult for consumer to understand what is credible on the marketplace. ENERGY STAR is a brand that identifies the most energy efficient products, buildings, homes and practices in the country. When you look for the ENERGY STAR label, you can know with confidence that you are purchasing a product or finding a building that is energy efficient or entering a building where energy use is managed efficiently. I think that’s really important to have that certainty and that guarantee of performance at a time when we need to make serious progress in saving energy and reducing our greenhouse gas emissions.

I noticed on your Web site that the EPA has launched a new tool for greening a workspace. Can you tell us more about that?

Launched @ work Tool Landing Page Yes, we’re really excited about this new tool, called ENERGY STAR @ work. If you think about energy use in the United States, about half of it comes from the places where we work, shop, play and learn. By this, I mean commercial buildings such as hotels, hospitals, office buildings, schools and supermarkets, as well as our manufacturing plants, including auto assembly and others. As consumers, we’ve done a good job in this country looking at how we live at home and how we can make smart choices that protect the environment. Our new ENERGY STAR @ work tool encourages consumers to look at many of the same green steps that they take at home and bring them into the workplace. The workplace offers an incredible opportunity to make progress in the fight against global warming. The average worker spends about eight hours a day at work, and can do many of the same things we do at home to save energy. That’s what this new effort -”Bring Your Green to Work with ENERGY STAR“- is all about: helping us understand how as individuals and organizations we do can a lot to save energy.

What are a few examples of things business owners can do to begin greening their operations? What are some of the low hanging fruits there?

I’d like to share several good examples. As an organization, take a look at your building systems and make sure they’re operating as efficiently as possible—similar to how we give our heating and air conditioning systems at home a tune up in the spring and fall. Take a look at lighting – compare the lighting schedule with building uses and make sure your not lighting an empty building. Measure your energy use – it’s the best way to understand how much energy you are using and to improve energy efficiency. EPA offers a free tool for measuring the energy use of commercial buildings, visit energystar.gov/benchmark to learn more. It’s important to note that there are also many actions that individual workers can take to boost the overall energy performance of an organization. With the popularity of personal electronics, you can often find cell phones, blackberrys, IPODs and more on our desks. The adapters for many of these electronics consume electricity when they are not being used. Make sure you unplug power adapters or battery chargers when equipment is fully charged or disconnected from the charger or use a power strip that can be switched off when electronics are not in use.

Make sure you turn the lights off when you leave conference rooms and use an ENERGY STAR qualified compact fluorescent bulb for your desk lamp instead of a traditional incandescent bulb. Again, it’s the things that are easy for us to do that, when combined, can really make a big difference. I think that it’s important for an organization to take a look at what can be done from a facilities perspective, but also think about how to involve employees. The two working together will create real energy savings.

Is ENERGY STAR working? Can you share some numbers?

The program is working. 2007 was our most successful year ever for the ENERGY STAR program. With the help of ENERGY STAR, Americans prevented 40 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2007. That’s equivalent to the emissions from about 27 million vehicles. To put it in perspective in terms of dollar savings, that’s a savings of over $16 billion on our utility bills. It shows that this voluntary partnership between American businesses and consumers is really working, both for our pocketbooks and the environment.

How does the EPA get the word out about the program?

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We have a really active outreach program. Our popular “Change a Light, Change the World with ENERGY STAR” campaign has expanded and is now called the “Change the World, Start with ENERGY STAR” campaign. This fall we’ve traveled to different cities across the U.S. with consumer and media events to spread the word about the small individual steps we can take to make a big difference in the fight against global warming.

On the business front, we’re really active with many organizations – from Fortune 500 companies to school districts to small businesses. In addition to the Bring Your Green to Work with ENERGY STAR outreach effort, we offer a proven energy management strategy that makes it easy for businesses to improve energy efficiency at little to no cost in this time of economic hardship. One of the things we like to say is “energy efficiency first.” That is, let’s try to drive down our energy consumption as much as possible by being more efficient. With what’s remaining, let’s look at what other environmentally friendly energy options are available. We also work with our more than 12,000 ENERGY STAR partners to help spread the word to other businesses and consumers.

What’s next for ENERGY STAR?

I think we’re making tremendous progress in improving energy efficiency but there is still a lot of work that remains to be done. On the home front, we’ll continue to reach out to consumers and ask them to not just change a light, but to take a look at other energy-saving actions they can take at home. At the workplace, we will expand our efforts to bring ENERGY STAR to executives and employees. With nearly 6,000 commercial buildings and industrial plants that have earned the ENERGY STAR, we’re off to a great start. But there is a great deal of growing room for more energy efficient buildings in this country and we’ll work with consumers to help drive demand for energy efficiency – not just where we live but where we work, play and learn.

Maura Beard is the Director for Strategic Communications for ENERGY STAR.

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