The labels are slightly different depending on type of vehicle:
1. Gas powered vehicles
2. Plug-in Hybrid Electric Vehicle (PHEV)
3. Electric Vehicle
4. Some sources indicate labels exist for the following additional types of vehicles, but I have been unable to find them:a. Diesel Vehicle
b. b. Compressed Natural Gas Vehicle
c. c. Hydrogen Fuel Cell Vehicled. Flexible-Fuel Vehicle: Gasoline-Ethanol(E85)
We will concentrate here on the labels for gas powered vehicles, currently the most widely owned type of vehicle in North America and the least sustainable choice.
These labels include some great information important to eco-conscious car buyers:
Starting with a single, independently verified number that is the combined city/highway miles-per-gallon for that vehicle paired with the range of miles-per-gallon for all new vehicles in that class for easy comparison. You are also provided with individual numbers for city and highway driving, as well as an estimate of gallons used per 100 miles.
Second, you get an estimate of annual fuel costs for this vehicle based on certain assumptions – “15,000 miles per year at $3.70 per gallon” (not sure if this is the assumption used for all vehicles, but the assumption used is clearly stated in the black area at the bottom of the sticker.)
Third, they provide an estimate of dollars saved or lost over 5 years in comparison to the average vehicle. Figures based on the same miles per year and per gallon as in the earlier assumption, combined with the estimate that new vehicles average 22.5 MPG and cost $12,500 to fuel over 5 years.
Next they provide ratings on a scale of 1 to 10 (1 signifying the worst and 10 being the best) that combines fuel economy and greenhouse gas emissions. There are two ratings that apply to each vehicle—one for fuel economy and one for greenhouse gas emissions—but gasoline vehicles will display only one rating. This is because carbon dioxide emissions are directly related to the amount of fuel consumed. This relationship varies from fuel to fuel, but since these labels are for gasoline vehicles only, they get the same rating for fuel economy and for greenhouse gas emissions.
There is a second 1 to 10 rating for smog. This scale is based on the U.S. vehicle emissions standards, which incorporate specific thresholds for nitrogen oxide, non-methane organic gas, carbon monoxide, particulate matter, and formaldehyde. As a comparison, vehicles that run on electricity have a tailpipe emission score of zero.
They have even included a QR Code that can be scanned by a smart phone (provided you have downloaded the appropriate application) to give customizable information!
While many eco-labels—from USDA Organic to the Forest Stewardship Council—have rigorous standards and third party auditing, the labels themselves are only emblems of the certification scheme, providing consumers little information and requiring that everyone conduct their own research. With so many labels out there, even the environmentally conscious shopper can become easily confused. When buying a ream of paper, for example, how many of us can remember that the Forest Stewardship Council demands that every log be tracked and every firm in the supply chain be independently audited while the Sustainable Forestry Initiative is a rubberstamp handed out by the forest products industry?
Enter the EPA’s new fuel economy label with all relevant information right on the product. Even better, it emphasizes what buying a greener product means to your wallet—a characteristic that is essential when marketing to a consumer base that has remained largely apathetic to sustainability. Car buyers can directly compare the long-term fuel cost expense or savings of each car they’re looking at.
Of course, nothing’s perfect. A potential problem with an EPA label is that it is vulnerable to Congress, and therefore could be effected by lobbyists of the oil and car manufacturing industries who will undoubtedly ask lawmakers to redefine “average new vehicle” to lower this hypothetical car’s miles per gallon. That would effectively increase the amount of money that consumers will “save,” even when buying a gas-guzzler.
Unfortunately, there are few alternative sources of certification providers. The options for eco-label sponsors are government agencies—such as the EPA—which administer standards that can be influenced by Congress, or corporations, whose attempts to greenwash their products instigate the very need for government-sponsored labels. Consequently, if consumers must choose between corporate sponsored and government sponsored labels, they should go with Uncle Sam every time.
Such an easy-to-understand and useful label needs to be replicated. Not all products would work, but there are plenty with the right criteria to allow for a similar labeling system to be successful. The system would need to be based on factors that are easily measurable and readily comparable, like fuel consumption. It would need to be a product that carries a cost associated with its use, e.g. something that consumes energy and there would need to have meaningful cost differences over a relatively short timeframe. After all, the EPA’s new labels would be less consequential if gas was still under $1 per gallon, since saving $500 on fuel over five years isn’t going to have much impact on the purchase of even a $10,000 car.
It seems that this kind of label could be immediately expanded to electronics, particularly refrigerators, clothes dryers and other high-energy use appliances that already have a somewhat less effective labeling system. It would be easy for the Energy Star labels to emulate the EPA’s fuel label, all they need to do is start putting their collected information directly onto the products, calculate the energy use of “average new appliances,” and report on the 5-year cost differences between the two. Imagine if an energy efficient washing machine costing an extra $100 had a label that told you the machine will save you $300 over 5 years, would that affect your purchasing decision?