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John S. Hoffman, developer of Energy Star efficiency program, dies at 62

By Megan McDonough,

John S. Hoffman, a former federal environmental official whose innovative program to identify and reward energy-efficient practices became the Energy Star program, a voluntary international rating system for “green” products, died Sept. 24 at MedStar Washington Hospital Center. He was 62 and a Washington resident.

He had complications after surgery for a perforated peptic ulcer, said his wife, Lucinda McConathy.

Mr. Hoffman was a global warming crusader in the 1980s, before the terms “climate change” and “clean energy” were part of everyday life. People looked at him as if he were a modern-day Chicken Little when he discussed ozone depletion and climate change, said Maria Vargas, a former colleague of his at the Environmental Protection Agency and current director of the Better Buildings Challenge at the Department of Energy.

Mr. Hoffman’s brainchild, the Energy Star program, was originally intended to be just one of a series of voluntary programs to combat global warming and demonstrate the profit potential of developing ecologically sustainable products. He was one of the first officials at EPA, Vargas said, to recognize that voluntary programs could help the agency take preventive action against environmental problems instead of just responding to them.

“Energy Star changed the way government works with energy and attacks an environmental problem,” Vargas said.

Mr. Hoffman, who began working at EPA in 1978, devised the Energy Star program in 1992 after discovering that colleagues were wasting significant amounts of energy when away from their computers. He thought computers and printers should have a “sleep” mode to save energy when not in use.

Working with information technology companies through public-private partnerships, Mr. Hoffman promoted the development of technologies to conserve energy. He and his staff also designed a labeling program to encourage consumers to buy eco-friendly products to reduce the amount of chlorofluorocarbon compounds in the atmosphere.

In addition, the EPA took out ads in industry magazines to highlight the benefits to companies that followed environmentally friendly practices.

“He was an interdisciplinary player before it was chic,” said Scott Sklar of the Stella Group, an energy-focused marketing and policy firm in Washington.

In 1996, the EPA partnered with the Department of Energy to include major home appliances and home electronics in the Energy Star program. The label is now featured on houses, commercial and industrial buildings and more than 40,000 consumer products.

In the past two decades, according to the EPA, Energy Star has prevented more than 1.7 billion metric tons of carbon emissions and saved Americans nearly $230 billion in utility bills.

The program celebrates its 20th anniversary this year and has been adopted by the European Union.

Mr. Hoffman was also a driving force behind what became the 1987 Montreal Protocol, a landmark international treaty designed to reduce harmful chemical emissions.

After retiring from the EPA in 1997 as acting director of the Global Change Division of the Office of Air and Radiation, Mr. Hoffman founded and managed several companies with the aim of inventing energy-saving technologies. His most recent project was the development of an energy-efficient automotive engine.

John Steven Hoffman was born Feb. 16, 1950, in New York City. He was a 1970 urban studies graduate of the University of Pennsylvania and received a master’s degree in systems modeling from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1972. At the time of his death, he was working on a PhD in economics from the University of Twente in the Netherlands.

Before joining the EPA, Mr. Hoffman taught at several universities, including the University of Illinois at Chicago, and he founded a management consulting firm in the Chicago area.

In 1984, he contributed to the book “Greenhouse Effect and Sea Level Rise: A Challenge for This Generation.”

Mr. Hoffman was a founding director of the Tregaron Conservancy, a community organization that restores and maintains the historic Tregaron estate in Washington’s Cleveland Park neighborhood. He was also a member of the Cleveland Park Historical Society and Cleveland Park Citizens Association.

Survivors include his partner of 41 years, whom he married in 1989, Lucinda McConathy of Washington; their daughter, Alla Hoffman of Chicago; and a brother.

“John had an amazing ability to work across a wide range of disciplines,” David Doniger, an environmental policy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council, wrote in a blog post. “As far back as the early 1980s, John realized that climate change was the pre-eminent environment threat, and he began EPA’s work on strategies to slow global warming.”

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