This article was originally published in the March/April 1993 issue of Home Energy Magazine. Some formatting inconsistencies may be evident in older archive content.



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Home Energy Magazine Online March/April 1993




False Advertising Ceases, Bum Deal Continues

Following charges by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and 32 states that General Electric Co. falsely represented its Energy Choice incandescent light bulbs to consumers, the lighting product giant has agreed to make specific modifications in the packaging and advertising of the bulbs in order to settle the charges, without conceding violations of any laws or regulations.

GE's Energy Choice line of bulbs, introduced in April 1991 to coincide with Earth Day, includes four incandescent bulbs, nine compact fluorescent lamps, three fluorescent tubes, and one halogen infrared lamp. At issue are the Energy Choice incandescent bulbs which are touted as replacements for standard bulbs of typically higher wattages. For example, a 90W incandescent bulb is designed to replace a 100W bulb. However, it provides only 1,540 lumens compared with 1,710 lumens for the 100W bulb. The package for this bulb prominently displayed in large print the number 100, and below in smaller print the phrase, watt replacement for only 90 watts.

In explaining the charges, FTC Boston Region Director Phoebe Morse, whose office handled the investigation, stated, We alleged that the packaging on the incandescent bulbs mislead customers to believe they would save energy and save money with the same wattage as a 100W bulb, for example, and that consumers were not adequately told that the bulb produced less light than a 100W bulb. Morse noted that the charges applied only to GE's Energy Choice incandescent bulbs and the Energy Choice halogen bulb, and involved the packaging and a GE television commercial. The FTC settlement permits GE to use leftover existing packaging for 120 days after the commission's acceptance of the agreement as a final order.

A separate agreement between GE and 32 states was announced at the same time as the FTC agreement last November. The states charged that GE's advertising implied the bulbs were a new type of technology, which was not the case with incandescents. Advertising also falsely claimed that switching to the bulbs would save significant amounts of energy and fossil fuel resources, when such savings are relatively small, the state's alleged. The states made specific requests for printing changes on the incandescent bulb packaging. GE also agreed to pay a total of $165,000 in legal costs to the states.

John Betchkal of GE Lighting said the company has implemented the package change, and he said the new incandescent packages would probably replace existing inventories of the former packages by about March 1993. The products remain unchanged, but we have revised the package to show in large type the wattage of the bulb being sold, and indicating that the bulb produces nearly the same amount of light as traditional bulbs while saving the consumer money and saving energy, stated Betchkal.

The Energy Choice bulbs have been criticized since their 1991 introduction. Chris Calwell of the Natural Resources Defense Council and chairman of The California Compact Florescent Consortium remarked that members of the Compact met with representatives of GE in 1991. They told GE their Energy Choice incandescents did not fit the Compact's definition of an energy efficient product: The bulb has to deliver the same or better lighting efficiency as the product it replaces, with less energy consumption. Consumer Reports has also called GE's energy conservation claims misleading in connection with the Energy Choice bulbs.

-- Ted Rieger

Ted Rieger is a freelance writer for trade publications and specializes in energy topics. He lives in Sacramento, Calif.


Packaging from General Electric's Energy Choice incandescent bulb has been criticized for listing the actual wattage, in this case 67W, in much smaller type than the watt replacement, 75W. This representation implies that bulb performance is equivalent to the higher wattage.


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