Green products have taken some high-profile hits in the media lately. There was Stephen Colbert's satirical smack down of CFLs, Senator Rand Paul's rant about low-flow toilets, and articles in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal about how washing machines don't clean as well as they used to. If an alien came to earth and heard those arguments in toto, it might assume that going green means giving up quality. But based on Consumer Reports 75 years of product testing, that's not the case.
True, there is sometimes a drop off in performance with first-generation green products, whether they're using less energy or cutting out the chemicals. But that can happen with any redesign or reformulation, even when the manufacturer's ony goal is to create a better product (New Coke, anyone?).
Much of the recent skewering of green products stems from the notion that they're being forced onto consumers by lawmakers in Washington, D.C. The flap over CFLs, for example, goes back to the 2007 Energy Independence Act-mandated phase out of incandescent lightbulbs, starting with 100-watt bulbs in 2012. In the case of washing machines, the culprit is efficiency standards, which are in the process of being made more stringent. Consumer Reports tends to support efficiency standards, in part because we've seen product performance remain at high levels even as product impact on the environment decreases. Here are just a few examples:
CFLs. When compact fluorescent lightbulbs first came onto the scene, they were pricey and prone to poor light and flickering. But some of the latest CFLs we've tested deliver even, bright illumination for about $1.50, while lasting ten times as long as incandescent lightbulbs.
Laundry detergents. When phosphates were first taken out of laundry detergent, cleaning power suffered. But many are now good or better at battling stains in our laundry detergent review. Tide's 2X Ultra for Cold Water, which saves energy by eliminating the need to heat washing machine water, is our top-rated conventional detergent.
Low-VOC paints. Our best interior paints among satin, flat, and semigloss finishes all contain fewer than 50 grams per liter of volatile organic compounds, which have been linked to air pollution and respiratory problems. Compare that with 2009, when none of our winners were low-VOC. Similarly, in our soon-to-be-complete update of exterior paints, we're also seeing our first-ever low-VOC top performers.
Toilets. Twenty years ago, toilets in the U.S. might use five gallons of water with every flush. A 1992 law limited toilets to 1.6 gallons per flush. In Consumer Reports toilet reviews, many models deliver excellent solid and liquid flush performance, and a few do the job using just 1.28 gallons per flush.
Washing machines. Despite what gets printed in national newspapers, today's energy-efficient washers are able to clean clothes. Take our latest Ratings: a vast majority of top-loaders (76 out of 82 tested) scored "good," "very good" or "excellent," with only 6 scoring "fair" or "poor" on wash performance. Front-loading washers generally performed even better, and many of these washers were still relatively affordable, with several costing between $550 and $650.
Not every green product on the market passes muster in our labs. Consumer Reports has reservations about energy-efficient tankless water heaters, since they're expensive to buy and install, and their limitations on hot-water flow rates could be an issue in large households. Then there's dishwasher detergent, which only recently started the phase-out of phosphates, and is still struggling with performance. But if laundry detergent is any indication, that should change as dishwasher detergent manufacturers figure out the new formulas. If so, it won't be the first time a green product took some hits on its way to mainstream acceptance and appeal.