“Energy Efficient” Could Be Worse for the Environment

There’s no denying it—“going green” is what’s in style. From reusable grocery bags to energy saving appliances, everywhere you look there’s a new product designed to help conserve the environment. But while the intention is good, some of these alternatives can actually result in very thing consumers are trying to avoid: harm to the environment. If you really want to be green, you should always think twice before jumping for that “energy-star” upgrade. Here’s why:

The whole point of “energy-star” appliances is that they use less energy, and are therefore easier on the environment. As it turns out, though, it’s a lot more complicated than that. Some argue that these new technologies actually use more energy than ever before, leaving a negative global impact. Others point out that energy-saving refrigerators and household appliances have grown in size in the last few decades because of the demand for larger freezer and refrigerator space. Manufacturing larger products costs more energy, both in your home and in transportation costs. But perhaps the most compelling reason against splurging on that new toaster-oven is the raw material involved in manufacturing it. If you buy it, you’ve just cost the environment twice the materials—those needed for your old toaster, which still works just fine, and what went into the new one.

If you really want to do the environment a favor, you should run your old appliances into the ground (this applies for cars, too!). On average, a household refrigerator can last anywhere from eight to ten years, and many smaller items last longer. If it breaks, consider taking it in to get a repair. Buying a new product just because it has an “energy star” rating is both expensive and counter-productive, especially if a working appliance still exists.

There are a number of ways to extend the lifetimes of your existing appliances. For example, don’t overload your washer, as that can put strain on the motor inside; you can find out how big a load should be from your user’s manual, or sometimes there’s a line inside the basin. For the dryer, always make sure the lint traps are clean and it is ventilated properly, so that motor will last longer, too. In some washer/dryer sets, the dryer is quite a big bigger than the washer. If this is the case, save up your wash loads and dry them all together. This will mean less strain on both motors, as the washer won’t have as much clothing at once and the dryer will run less often. If it’s nice outside, try hang-drying your clothes to avoid the extra wear altogether.

For your refrigerator, make sure you clean dust off the coils in the back, which can clog the air flow and force it to work overtime to keep things cool. If you have allergies, you may want to wear a mask for this—it’s amazing how many dust bunnies can get caught in there! Similarly, always check that your toaster, microwave and oven are clean. Not only can food particles catch on fire and ruin your appliances that way, but the energy that goes into re-heating those millions of tiny crumbs every time you use it can really slow things down. These simple and easy steps will help put a longer life on your appliances, and save you trouble later with repairs and new purchases.

When your old appliance is completely kaput and you have to buy a new one, stick to the same size or smaller to reduce energy costs. Feel free to opt for the one with the special sticker, as it probably is more efficient, but don’t buy something larger thinking it’ll even out. In the long run it will cost the same amount of energy, if not more. And as for that faithful old appliance, check the EPA website for frequently asked questions on how to dispose of it properly, to avoid groundwater contamination, ozone layer depletion, and mercury exposure in plants.

Ultimately, energy-saving appliances aren’t the cure-all to environmental problems. New technology doesn’t save the planet; we do. Increasing the longevity of household appliances will protect both your budget and the environment. Live above the “go green” hype, and refuse to buy anything new until you have to.

So, what is your opinion of energy efficient appliances?



“Energy Efficient” Could Be Worse for the Environment — 15 Comments

  1. I constantly think about this when I read about the specs for the new generation of electrical cars. I have seen it mentioned in a couple places that the Tesla batteries are very difficult to dispose of properly, and there replacement rate is substantial. Considering where we get most of energy from right now, these cars may very well hurt the environment more than fossil fuel cars that are very efficient.

    • I have heard some similar stories. I had read that there is no way to recycle some of these batteries so they just end up in the land fill. However I have been told this is not true. It is a bit hard right now to know what to believe. I guess time will be the true test of what is true and what is not.

  2. I had the habit of turning off my old printer when not in use, but the habit died when I bought a energy efficient printer.

    Then I realized, there is no reason why I shouldn’t turn off the printer even though it was energy efficient. It was still consuming power even when in the sleep mode. No harm in turning off power no matter how energy efficient the appliance is.

    • Great example Money Cone. These are the things that really matter. All the little bits of power we can save doing small practices like this can make a real difference. Glad you have become aware of this and are working to make changes. I always tell people that awareness is the hardest part.

    • That’s good to hear that you aren’t wasteful. Often buying new isn’t the answer. However, when something does fail and we need to replace it, then buying the greener option makes sense. My last car (just sold it recently) was 14 years old. It still had a good amount of miles left in it and still looked pretty good too.

  3. Of course as a lot of manufacturing is carried out in China and the like these days, we in the west have exported out pollution there. So it would be better if the total carbon footprint were calculated. It would keep someone in a job anyway. I heard that the material for hybrid car batteries starts off in Canada, goes to Germany for initial processes, then to China for manufacturing, to Japan for installation then the car is exported back to Europe or the US. And only lasts 7 years or so before it has to be replaced. Daft.

    It is right that sometimes it is better to run the old appliances into the ground. Replacing filament light bulbs (typical life 1000 hours – about a year of typical use) with low energy ones (typical life of an LED is tens of thousands of hours – probably 20 years of typical use) is better done when the old one burns out which won’t be long. We have been doing that over the past couple of years and now have hardly any filament bulbs – you can’t get them any more anyway. But LEDs still cost a lot – a 4W bulb (equivalent to a 35W halogen) was close to $10. That’t a lot of hours to save.

    Certainly needs thinking about…

    • What you said is globalization at it’s core. We now live in a society where we no longer can produce something for ourselves. Instead we need to engage with the entire planet to get the job done. In one way this opens up more jobs for people but in another way it just further increases our carbon footprint and damage to the earth. It really is a lose-lose either way.

      We have been doing the same thing with our light bulbs as you. We wait until one runs out and then replace it with a more efficient one. I agree with you on the price of the LED’s- they could use to come down a bit.

  4. I always use my stuff till it breaks or goes dead. If it isn’t broken, why fix it? I see no need in spending good hard earned money on appliances or the like if I have something that works just as well, but is a little aged. It’s silly. Great tips!

  5. This is why I’m against ethanol subsidies, hybrid subsidies, etc… the price of something is a very real indicator of the resources that went into making it, and scrapping stuff that is still perfectly usable, or spending twice as much to get a hybrid that has very expensive batteries is still a waste of resources if another choice would have been made without the subsidy.

    If you’re going to have additional costs, what I could agree with is making polluters pay the costs of their own cleanup, especially large oil companies (I do not agree with liability caps), but all offenders should at least pay for the costs of the inconvenience and costs they impose upon others. But, to my mind that means real pollution, like mercury in the water, crap in the food, etc… that stuff is a real concern to me and the mercury thing is why I’m not so enamored with CFLs, either, on top of the fact that I don’t like the light quality. 😉 Hopefully LEDs can make some good headway as their costs come down over time.

    • Great idea about having polluters pay the cost for their clean up. That would be a great incentive to not do it. However one concern I have with this is that sometimes pollution cannot be cleaned up. For example one there is an oil spill in the ocean, there is no going back. Damage is done. Plants and animals dye and that water is unhabitable for decades. To me the fees should be so high that they prevent the pollution from happening in the first place. I also think that the fees would need to be global. We are all connected and what goes on in one country still affects all of the others.

      I too hope that cost of LED’s and other green technologies go down. It makes no sense why you need to pay more to be better to the environment. Talk about lack of incentive.

  6. We just recently had to purchase a new car and I got the Prius C, but when people try to tell me how “green” it is, I think I rain on their parade. I got the car because it is safe, reliable, and has great gas mileage (my must haves when driving around clients) however I’m under no illusions of all the energy and more that it took to manufacture my plastic car. My husband’s vehicle is our “green” car. He has a 1969 Datsun 510 wagon. We purchase original or refurbished parts whenever possible, and I’m pretty after 43 years it’s outlived its carbon footprint. 🙂

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