How Many Environmentalists Does it Take to Change A Light Bulb?

Discussion
Mar 05, 2007
Bernice Hurst

By Bernice Hurst, Managing Director, Fine Food Network

As core suppliers of food, supermarket and fast-food chains have been actively touting healthy-eating educational programs and products to combat America’s obesity problem. As the main suppliers of light bulbs, should bulb retailers and manufacturers be taking the lead in promoting more energy-efficient lighting devices?

Thanks to global warming, the move to phase out the incandescent bulb seems to be picking up speed. The bulbs, first invented by Thomas Edison in 1879, turn only five percent of the electricity it consumes into the light. The rest is wasted heat.

Last November, the McClatchy News Service (MCT) reported that the Department of Energy was endorsing compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), which use two-thirds less energy than incandescent bulbs while lasting ten times longer. At around the same time, Wal-Mart set a goal of selling 100 million CFLs by 2008. Both the Sam’s Club website and walmartfacts.com provide information and advice to persuade customers. More recently, Andy Rubin, Wal-Mart’s VP of corporate strategy and sustainability, participated in a National Public Radio (NPR) broadcast entitled “Do Fluorescent Bulbs Light the Way to the Future?” A transcript is available through www.walmartfacts.com.

On the vendor side, Theo van Deursen, CEO of Royal Philips Electronics’ lighting division, said last week that he expected to see a resolution shortly among European bulb producers to phase out incandescent bulbs in the home. That followed Australia’s government plans to ban the bulb within three years and news out of California that lawmakers there have introduced a bill seeking to do the same in the state by 2012 over environmental concerns. As EPA website www.energystar.gov puts it, “If every American home replaced just one light bulb with an ENERGY STAR (CFL), we would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars.”

For
mass adoption, however, customers will have to first get used to the look of
CFLs, which resemble thin tubes twisted into a swirl shape. Also, unlike incandescent
bulbs, CFLs include mercury and may pose disposal problems. But the main hurdle
for consumers appears to be price. Although they are steadily coming down,
a four-pack of CFLs can cost about $15 – four of five times a comparable package
incandescent bulbs. Extrapolating costs to calculate long-term savings in electricity
and fewer purchases can prove vexing when you can just buy the cheapest bulb
on the shelf.

But as technology improves, costs are expected to continue to
come down. Plus, CFL adoption already has a big backer in Wal-Mart. As Mr.
Rubin said on NPR, “We have a fundamental belief that all families should have
access to affordable, sustainable goods, and compact fluorescent light bulbs
are a great way for our customers to save money… The working families and
small businesses that are our customers will not only save money when shopping
with us, but also on their electric bills, all the while benefiting the environment.”

Discussion
questions: Will bulb retailers and vendors promoting and educating consumers
now regarding energy-efficient devices have an advantage over those who are
either later in starting or less visible in current efforts? Should retailers
selling private label bulbs, for example, take the lead in this area and
begin phasing out incandescent bulbs even more quickly than manufacturers?

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10 Comments on "How Many Environmentalists Does it Take to Change A Light Bulb?"


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Karen Ribler
Guest
Karen Ribler
13 years 7 months ago

From my point of view, this is a “no brainer.” I definitely believe that retailers should do as much as possible to educate consumers regarding the advantage of using these bulbs. As Bernice noted, CLF bulbs are much longer lasting than the traditional incandescent bulbs. They save electricity, are cooler, and require less hauling on the part of the shopper.

A drawback at first blush is the initial price. Offering a private label option would be a terrific tactic to build sales and reinforce the store’s support of good environmental stewardship.

My 80+ year old mom is completely sold on these bulbs because she does not have to worry about replacing bulbs since they so infrequently burnout. The reliability factor as well as the electric savings has made her a loyal consumer.

Mark Lilien
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

Retailers make more money on $15 light bulb packs than $5 light bulb packs, so their merchandising goals are perfectly aligned with sales, profit, and environmental goals. Certainly any retailer of modest volume can supply private label as well as brand name compact fluorescents. But it’s not up to retailers to end the supply of incandescents. That’s up to the government.

The mercury issue isn’t a minor one, BTW. It’s toxic waste, and unless the government requires them to recycle, retailers cannot afford to do it free.

Ian Percy
Guest
13 years 7 months ago

These new fluorescent bulbs make all the sense in the world and of course every avenue for branding and distributing them should be taken advantage of. But what does logic, the facts and common sense have to do with it?

What we need is mind-set change. Resistance to immediately changing over isn’t even about cost so much (well maybe a little) as it is design and aesthetics. My opinion is that consumers think the bulbs look ugly–but maybe I’m just projecting. In my vacation condo for example, are 53 recessed spotlights. 53! I’d change every one of them tomorrow if some one would come up with a cover or some thing that would make them look nice.

“It’s the design, stupid.” You can change mind-sets with good design. And of course I should just get over it and buy the new bulbs. Heck, I could save the planet single handedly.

Gene Hoffman
Guest
Gene Hoffman
13 years 7 months ago

The dynamic in the mainstream of the marketplace does not appear to be magnetized by energy-efficiency or conservation in gasoline (SVUs replacing cars), fuel (larger houses replacing smaller ones), or in light bulbs. A pity, but that’s the way the light bulb currently glows.

Sid Raisch
Guest
Sid Raisch
13 years 7 months ago
I’ve switched over all the bulbs in my home and office, except several where the fixture won’t accept them. I will probably replace the fixtures at some point. As resident bulb changer in my house, it is almost noticeable that they need replaced less frequently. I now buy fewer bulbs, so I think that will carry out to mean consumption and sales will go down as the longer-life bulbs are put into use in more homes. I have not noticed the difference in my electric bill, but I haven’t looked either. I presume my consumption of electricity is down as advertised, but I haven’t taken the time to feel good or brag about that. If all is as advertised, it would be a tremendous benefit if we could somehow donate a package of bulbs to a family that cannot afford them, or their electric bill. They would then use less electricity, require less out of their budget to pay for it, and also spend less at Wal-Mart on light bulbs, and more on something else… Read more »
Bill Bishop
Guest
Bill Bishop
13 years 7 months ago

I think that Bernice has hit a really key point here, i.e., that shopper expectations are expanding well beyond the search for traditional product features and benefits.

It’s evident from a lot of work we do that a still relatively small but fast-growing and affluent segment of society is very concerned about the environment and dealing with socially responsible businesses.

Any company that can position itself in this way certainly will have a significant advantage over a more traditional competitor.

Charles P. Walsh
Guest
Charles P. Walsh
13 years 7 months ago

When being a responsible environmental steward also pays benefits in the way of profits on new products then you can be sure that retailers and manufacturers will get behind it. There may be a short term benefit for those retailers who were first to the game but the pie will sort itself out over time.

As for the aesthetic appeal of the product, innovation in form is catching up to the functional achievements. There has been an increase in the number of styles available that are specific to the multitude of household lighting requirements such as bulbs for ceiling fans, small bedside lamps and even recessed lighting that puts the CFC bulb within a flat profile bulb (Ian you can replace those 50 plus can incandescents now!).

If new products add ‘value’ to customers they will respond positively to the product offerings, that to me is the test for the length and breadth of this developing trend.

Jeff Weitzman
Guest
Jeff Weitzman
13 years 7 months ago

The regulatory efforts will hopefully push manufacturers to continue development of better lighting sources. We just renovated our kitchen and by law, 50% of the lighting has to be “high efficiency.” Right now that mean CFLs and fluorescents. Unfortunately, CFLs still have a bit of a warm-up period, and while color temperature choices are better, they still don’t have the warmth of incandescents.

LEDs are a very promising technology that are highly energy efficient, instant on, have more color options, can be enclosed in a variety of housings, etc. They are currently not generally available in configurations that produce enough light to replace incandescents for general room lighting, but that should be something manufacturers can overcome quickly.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
13 years 7 months ago

Retailers should make every effort to stock energy efficient lightbulbs but it’s not their job to convince the consumer that this is the best way to go. I think this is a job for government. Incentives should be offered to convert to high efficiency bulbs via tax credits. Don’t think this is new as the government has been offering tax incentives to buyers of solar furnaces and hot water heaters, hybrid automobiles, etc. The above devices that have tax incentives can only impact our energy situation marginally. The light bulbs are, however, estimated to produce energy savings of 8 percent to 10 percent nationally, so I guess we will never see any support out of Washington for anything that is really effective.

David Hirsch
Guest
David Hirsch
13 years 7 months ago
Retailers can clearly position themselves as forward thinkers and environmental stewards by adding CFLs to their shelves. However, it has already been pointed out in other comments that there are still obstacles before America embraces this technology. The lack of instant-on (requiring a “warm-up” of 15-30 seconds) bothers me (I changed every other bulb where possible). The curly design is another negative, encouraging use only in fixtures where the bulb isn’t visible, or in cannister lighting where a cover has been put over it making it look more like a standard indoor flood light. And the spectrum of light given off varies, depending on the bulb. Finally, the issue of mercury in these bulbs cannot be taken too lightly. Are we prepared to recycle these bulbs, or will we be trading one evil for another? Up to now America has not stepped up to the plate for recycling without major support and legislation from government, such as the deposit bottle (which has lost a great deal of steam as the sale of water, sports drinks,… Read more »
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