What’s the difference between Energy Star and Design Lights Consortium approved lighting products?

What’s the difference between Energy Star and Design Lights Consortium approved lighting products?

When searching for energy efficient lighting products, most buyers have probably noticed that some products display a blue Energy Star label while others display a Design Lights Consortium (DLC) label. This usually leads to them ask the following questions:

  • What’s the difference between the two?
  • Why are products labeled with one or the other, but not both?
  • How does a given product become Energy Star or DLC approved?

In order to answer these questions, let’s first look at the backgrounds behind them.

Energy Star

Energy Star is a program started by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1996 to help reduce air pollution. In 2005, the EPA and the Department of Energy (DOE) expanded it to include promotion of energy efficient products and buildings. This expansion of its mission was meant to help reduce energy consumption and lower all types of pollution. It is a voluntary program that not only applies to lighting products, but also to computers, household appliances, heating and cooling systems and home electronics, among other things.

The Energy Star label tells the consumer that the product has met efficiency standards set by the EPA and DOE.This means that products with it are safer for the environment than those without it. Although originally established the United States, the Energy Star program has become an international standard.

In order to earn the Energy Star label, products are independently tested by a third party EPA-certified laboratory before being sold on the market. These approved products are later tested at random to ensure that they still meet Energy Star standards. Some of the standards for lighting products are:

  • Fluorescent lighting must use 75% less energy and last up to 10 times longer than incandescent lights
  • LED lighting must use 75% less energy than incandescent lights
  • LED lighting must last 35 to 50 times longer than incandescent lighting and about 2 to 5 times longer than fluorescent lighting. No bulb-replacements, no ladders, no ongoing disposal program.

Design Lights Consortium

The DLC is a regional group that focuses on energy efficiency specifically in the lighting industry. It is a part of the Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) and was originally focused on the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic areas of the United States. It was set up in 1998 in order to promote quality, performance and energy efficient commercial sector lighting solutionsin the building sector. The DLC set up a program called the “knowhow series” which instructed electrical contractors and lighting distributors on how to outfit commercial spaces with efficient lighting that was also attractive, functional, and up to code.

In 2010, the DLC created the Qualified Products List (QPL) of commercial grade LED lights, a leading resource that distinguishes quality, high efficiency LED products for the commercial sector. In 2012, due to the DLC’s success, programs from over thirty states and three Canadian provinces joined the DLC. Today, these groups collaborate to push the lighting market towards even more innovation and energy efficiency.

Products must meet strict requirements to make the QPL or to earn the DLC logo on their packaging. Manufacturers must apply and pay a fee to have a DLC-approved third party test their products.


  • DLC is strictly for lighting products, whereas Energy Star is applied to many other types of products.
  • Energy Star is typically used for consumer products, DLC is used for commercial products.
  • There are no products that have both ratings, only one or the other. There is no overlap between the two. For example, recessed lighting is within the jurisdiction of Energy Star; therefore, DLC does not rate this type of product.
  • Energy Star can claim jurisdiction over particular products, so if this happens to a DLC product, DLC must remove its label.
  • Energy Star covers CFL light bulbs, LED light bulbs, residential luminaires, decorative light strings and ceiling fans with light kits.
  • DLC covers commercial products not covered under Energy Star such as roadway lights or parking garage lights.

Depending on location, some ES and DLC lights are eligible for tax rebates and incentives. Either way, both labels tell the buyer that the products that display them have met strict efficiency standards.

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