Twenty years ago, John S. Hoffman, a 14-year veteran of the Environmental Protection Agency, launched a deceptively simple program to address a problem that he, but not too many others, worried about incessantly: global warming. The program was called Energy Star. It ended up saving $230 billion in electrical bills and 1.7 billion metric tons in carbon emissions in the United States alone. Hoffman, whose death in late September at 62 was reported this week, proved just how much one government employee can do.
Hoffman began devising the Energy Star program after calculating the waste of electricity by office computers left on all night and all weekend. His common-sense solution — pushing offices to turn off their hardware, and encouraging computer companies to incorporate energy-saving technology — marked “a completely different way of approaching environmental problems,” he declared in 1991.
Energy Star didn’t require the fast-moving technology industry to jack up prices for consumers. In fact, Hoffman’s 1992 report on Energy Star’s first year boldfaced the fact that it came at “no extra cost to consumers.” The program started with 13 manufacturers, including microprocessor titan Intel, agreeing to produce personal computers that used 75 percent less energy than previous models. It now encompasses 20,000 companies and organizations. In all, consumers have purchased more than 4 billion Energy Star Qualified home appliances, electronics, heating and cooling equipment, and lighting fixtures since 2000 alone. The hundreds of billions of dollars saved in the United States was matched by savings around the world.
Hoffman wrote in 1992 that his goal was to “profitably prevent pollution, including greenhouse gases, using voluntary market enhancing programs.” In the up-and-down struggle against global warming, Hoffman was a warrior for the ages.