The HDTV world is flat and turning green. Plasma and LCD panels dominate, and now manufacturers are fighting over who can make the most environmentally-friendly televisions (since there are relatively few other meaningful differences among their features). And one of the key focal points for these efforts is to use less power. The good news is that many of them have been quite successful in their efforts.
Consumers can find energy efficient flat panel TVs by picking one with an Energy Star label. This certification program is a joint effort between the U.S. Department of Energy and the Environmental Protection Agency. The program estimates that if all televisions in the country met the current standards, we would save $2.5 billion a year in electricity, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to about 3 million cars.
And today, 3M launched a campaign to encourage consumers to buy sets certified by the Energy Star program, and to pay attention to energy consumption figures; it is possible for one Energy Star set to use nearly twice as much power as another one the same size. (Note that Energy Star requirements will become tougher in May 2010 when the version 4.0 specifications take effect, and more strigent yet with version 5.0 in May 2012.)
Why does 3M care? They don’t make televisions, after all. The answer is that they make some special plastic films that are used in LCD panels. LCDs require a backlight that shines through the liquid crystal layer so you can see the image. The problem is that light from the backlight gets scattered, and not all of it makes it through the panel. 3M makes some very clever films that will actually capture much of this “lost” light, and direct it out through the panel. Less lost light means that the backlight doesn’t need to be as bright in order to create the same brightness at the front of the screen. Lowering the backlight’s brightness means that less power is used, making the whole set more energy efficient. So if you buy a very efficient LCD HDTV, you may well be buying a 3M product. And that may encourage manufacturers to use more 3M products in their sets.
In spite of their self-interest, I think it’s great that 3M has chosen to make an effort to educate consumers about TV energy consumption, and the choices that are available. It’s unusual to have a component manufacturer get involved in marketing programs about end products like this; 3M is doing something good for themselves and for consumers with this campaign.