Consumer Products Advertised To Save Energy--Let the Buyer Beware

HRD-81-85: Published: Jul 24, 1981. Publicly Released: Jul 24, 1981.

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GAO reviewed the problems experienced by federal, state, and local agencies in protecting consumers from potentially inaccurate or misleading energy-savings claims.

GAO noted hundreds of advertisements having questionable energy-saving claims. The ads: (1) appeared to exaggerate a product's capabilities; (2) did not disclose material facts affecting the product's performance; and (3) made performance claims which consumers could not compare with competing brands because of the lack of standard, generally accepted measures of energy savings. Consumers cannot easily determine the accuracy of energy-saving claims because: (1) sellers generally are not responsive to consumers' requests for information to support the claims; (2) the data that sellers provide consumers to support claims are often inaccurate, not relevant, or highly technical and therefore difficult for most consumers to understand or evaluate; and (3) consumers often cannot learn through experience and switch to more effective products because the energy savings are not always measurable even after purchase, and the purchases are often costly and made infrequently.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Chairman of FTC should direct of the Bureau of Consumer Protection to alert consumers by publishing additional consumer fact sheets about some of the difficulties with claims and ads, particularly for solar and wood burning products.

    Agency Affected: Federal Trade Commission

  2. Status:

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Energy should direct the Office of Consumer Affairs to work with its energy-saving device fraud prevention grantee to: (1) establish formal, written procedures, including adequate safeguards to protect the confidentiality of the material it handles; (2) increase its outreach activities to encourage more consumer protection agencies to participate; and (3) reach an agreement with FTC and the Postal Inspection Service to enable them to participate by sharing their data.

    Agency Affected: Department of Energy


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