Here’s a Bright Idea– Energy Efficient Lighting for Home and Office
Looking for an easy way to explain green purchasing to political appointees, supervisors, colleagues, family and friends? Try the simple CFL, the energy-efficient light bulb available at almost any local hardware, grocery store, or large discount retail shop, as well as government suppliers.
CFLs (compact fluorescent light bulbs) are an example of a radically improved “green” technology that only savvy purchasing officials and a few well educated consumers know about. Replacing a typical 60-watt light bulb with an equivalent 13-watt, energy-saving CFL saves $30 in energy costs. CFLs provide the same light quality as old fashioned light bulbs while requiring four-and-a-half times less energy. They also last for six years or more (6,000 to 12,000 hours) so changing light bulbs might soon become a distant memory.
Assuming the electricity powering the bulb is created by burning coal, which is true of most power in the United States, the switch to a CFL also eliminates the need to burn 220 pounds of coal and avoids the release of 450 pounds of global warming greenhouse gas pollutants.
Compact Fluorescent Pricing
While not all green products cost more, capturing energy-, environmental-,and cost-savings associated with high-quality CFLs does require a higher initial cost. A typical 60-watt light bulb costs about $0.25, while a 13-watt energy-saving CFL costs almost $2.00.
The resulting energy savings, however, means that the CFL pays for itself in about five months of normal use. Afterwards, the bulb continues generating nothing but savings and light for the next five-and-a-half years.
When CFLs were first introduced almost 20 years ago, they were about as reliable as the first cell phones that were introduced around the same time. Like the early cell phones, the early CFLs suffered from a variety of performance issues.
Luckily, both CFLs and cell phones have been improving ever since they were introduced. CFL light quality now rivals traditional light bulbs in many applications. CFLs are more compact so they no longer peek above most lamp shades. They turn on quickly and burn brightly.
As with many products, however, there is a wide range of quality depending on the manufacturer and the individual product. When buying CFLs, look for the Energy Star label as an indicator of the overall quality of the bulb. Additional purchasing recommendations are provided below.
No product is truly environmentally benign. While CFLs have enormous environmental and financial benefits, there is room to improve environmental performance. Current CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury (about the size of the tip of a ballpoint pen). Some CFLs also contain lead. Both mercury and lead have adverse impacts on human health and the environment and should be avoided when possible.
The States of California, Vermont, and Minnesota now ban all mercury containing products from landfills. While designed to prevent mercury-laden devices like old thermometers and thermostats, which contain 100 to 400 times as much mercury, the laws also cover products like CFLs that contain only very minute amounts of mercury. As a result, customers must find more appropriate ways to dispose of CFLs.
The necessary infrastructure to recycle CFLs is only now beginning to emerge. Until it matures, consumers are encouraged to dispose of CFLs (and any product containing mercury or lead) in local household hazardous waste disposal facilities. Visit www.govinfo.bz/5969-110 for information on recycling or disposing of CFLs.
Despite these concerns, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the vast majority of environmental organizations strongly encourage the transition to CFLs because they actually help reduce overall mercury emissions.
The largest sources of mercury in the environment in the United States are coal-powered electric utility companies. Every kilowatt of electricity created by burning coal releases mercury and global warming greenhouse gas pollutants into the atmosphere.
The energy savings created by switching from old fashioned light bulbs to CFLs reduces the amount of energy that must be created, thereby reducing the emission of both mercury and global warming pollutants. The avoided mercury emissions resulting from the use of CFLs greatly outweighs the minute amounts of mercury contained within a CFL.
When buying CFLs for use at home or in an office, consider the following:
Start with a Single Bulb – CFLs, like traditional light bulbs, are available in a subtle variety of colors depending on their intended use. The additional cost of CFLs (a four-pack might cost $8 versus $1 for traditional bulbs) means it is important to ensure the color is appropriate for the intended use. Look for packages labeled “warm white” or indicating a color temperature of 2,700 to 3,000 degrees Kelvin. Other popular color temperatures include 4,500 to 6,000 Kelvin.
Buy the Right Bulb for the Right Socket – CFLs are made in a variety of styles. Select a style that is aesthetically appropriate for the intended use. In addition, despite the enormous advances made in CFL technology, there are some applications where CFLs are not quite as user friendly. Most CFLs do not perform well in recessed lighting (hole in the ceiling type lights) or with dimmable switches. Look for CFLs especially designed for use in recessed lighting or dimmers.
Buy Energy Star – The federal government’s Energy Star program has a strict standard defining the acceptable energy-efficiency, environmental, and performance requirements for CFLs. Look for the Energy Star on the package or visit www.govinfo.bz/5969-111.
Look for Lead Free Bulbs – Some CFLs contain zero lead. When available, buy lead-free.
Ask about Mercury Content – When specifying bulbs, ask about the mercury content along with additional information about energy efficiency, durability, product warrantees, and cost. Seek bulbs containing less than 5 milligrams of mercury or lower if possible.
Review Energy Star Purchasing Specifications – The U.S. Energy Star program has recommended purchasing specifications on its Web site at www.govinfo.bz/5969-111.
As Easy As…
Energy efficient lighting is one of the most cost effective ways of saving money and benefiting the environment. It is an easy green purchasing success. Buying CFLs makes green purchasing as easy as changing a light bulb. It is the smart choice and no one wants to be the dim bulb in a pack. Try a CFL today at home and in the office.
About the Author
Scot Case is the founder of Responsible Sourcing Solutions, a consulting firm that helps organizations create value by integrating human health, environmental, and social considerations into strategic planning, purchasing, and other critical business decisions. He can be reached at [email protected]