John Hoffman, a Force in Energy Efficiency, Dies at 62

John Hoffman, who helped shape an international treaty in the 1980s to protect the ozone layer and later developed the Energy Star program, a widely recognized government stamp of approval for energy-efficient products, died on Sept. 24 in Washington. He was 62.

The cause was complications after surgery for a perforated peptic ulcer, said his wife, Lucinda McConathy.

Mr. Hoffman was working at the Environmental Protection Agency in the 1980s when he became one of the first federal environmental officials to begin looking for ways to address climate change. He conceived of Energy Star as a way to reduce emissions of heat-trapping gases. Introduced in 1992, the voluntary program encouraged manufacturers to produce more environmentally friendly products, in part by assuring them that consumers would understand the benefits of buying them.

“He looked around his office and saw all these computers running all the time,” Ms. McConathy said. “He thought: ‘Couldn’t they have some low-energy mode? Couldn’t they go to sleep when I’m at lunch?’ Out of that came the first Energy Star labeling.”

Energy Star initially focused on computers and monitors, but it quickly expanded to other products and even entire homes. Now the Energy Star logo is prominently stamped on qualifying products, whether an office phone, a light bulb or a gas furnace.

According to the program’s Web site, in 2011 Energy Star products helped prevent 210 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions — equivalent to the emissions from 41 million vehicles — and reduced utility bills by $23 billion.

Former colleagues said Mr. Hoffman believed that the E.P.A. too often had an adversarial relationship with industry — that it was locked in a pattern of penalizing polluters after they broke laws. Worried about the long-term impact of climate change, he wanted to motivate manufacturers and consumers not to pollute in the first place.

“Now you sort of think, ‘Well, of course, you would do that,’ but at the time John was really fighting an established way of thinking,” said Maria Tikoff Vargas, who led the brand management of Energy Star for 15 years and is now the director of the Energy Department’s Better Buildings Challenge, which encourages energy efficiency in commercial and industrial buildings.

“It really was an amazing way to thread the needle,” she added, “so that everyone benefited, including, and perhaps most importantly, the environment.”



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