Holiday Shopping With Benefits

It’s holiday season, so perhaps you’re going to treat yourself to a new laptop or bring your parents into the modern era with a flat screen TV.  Perhaps a new washer-dryer (please Santa!) or even a new car?  

And maybe, like me, for years you’ve searched in vain for a resource that could help you discover which consumer products — which computers, which SUVs, which washing machines — offer the greatest energy savings and have the least impact on our environment.  

You don’t have to be a professional energy policy wonk to know that if we all had the most efficient appliances, homes and vehicles, we could get rid of the dirty old coal plants that cause shocking rates of asthma in our kids and stop sending $1 billion dollars a day out of country to import fossil fuels.  Saving money and the planet at the same time is eminently possible – if only it were easier to do! 

Well, now it is.  A team of energy-efficiency experts, including NRDC’s very own Noah Horowitz, just launched my new favorite website: (Check out NRDC's interview with Noah here.) TopTenUSA can help you and yours save hundreds of dollars a year on the energy and fuel bills you pay to power all your stuff.

The site lists the 10 most energy-efficient consumer products in a host of categories; information you can’t get from Energy Star or Consumer Reports.  Those are great resources, but Energy Star only tells you if something is in the top 25 percent of the market, it doesn’t identify the best performers.  And Consumer Reports focuses on how well things work, not on energy performance.

TopTenUSA, on the other hand, tells you that the most efficient full-sized laptop is the Asus UL50VT, which ranks #5. (The four higher ranking laptops are smaller.) The #1 most efficient car? While TopTen’s experts evaluate the new electric vehicles, the current winner is Toyota’s Prius. Many other rankings are available on the site and more are on the way:  look for hot-water heaters soon and room air conditioners in the spring.

TopTenUSA allows you to search for the best online prices and for bricks-and-mortar stores where products are available. The site helps users find government rebates. In the coming year, says TopTenUSA president Norman L. Dean, it will add expert and consumer reviews, to help users compare not just efficiency but functionality, too.

All this information can help make a big difference in our energy consumption and in the power-plant and tailpipe pollution that result. TopTenUSA estimates a consumer can save two-thirds of the $440 to $650 a year he or she now spends powering old appliances and electronics by replacing them with TopTen models, rather than non-ranked ones.

That kind of cash — $300 to $400 or more every year — is nothing to be sneezed at. The same goes for cars: Trading in an old model with simply average mileage for a TopTen-er will save approximately 130 gallons of gas each year. That’s a lot of money in the bank and clean air in our atmosphere.

Think all this efficiency will cost you? Think again. A #1-ranked $25,000 Prius uses less than $900 worth of gas annually. A similarly priced Chevy Impala? More than twice that:  $1866 to $2441.

But the savings don’t end there. If 10 percent of consumers shift their purchases to the most energy-efficient products listed on TopTenUSA, we can cut our global warming pollution as a nation by 3.5 million tons annually. That’s the equivalent of taking more than 170,000 cars off the road.

If all US consumer products met TopTen’s current criteria, we’d eliminate more than 30.7 million tons of that pollution each year — the equivalent of taking 5.3 million cars off the road. We’d also save $4.7 billion on energy annually.  That’s a nice boost for our lagging economy.

TopTenUSA will likely motivate governments to mandate and manufacturers to produce more energy-efficient products. That’s what’s happened in Switzerland, home to the first TopTen website. (There are now 16 European sites, and a new one introduced in China this fall.) “In Switzerland, TopTen pulled the market into energy-efficient heat-pump clothes dryers,” Dean says. “Now, the government there is going to require heat-pump dryers or ones that are equally efficient.”

You can understand why I’m thrilled about TopTenUSA, both as a consumer and as the parent of a 2-year-old who wants to keep breathing and never be sent to fight a war over oil.

Who knew a shopping website could help deliver that?