Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Responsible Stewardship with lightbulbs

A quick break from the Crunchy Cons series to take a side tangent on a somewhat related topic. This month's Fast Company Magazine (Note the link is to the subscriber only section for now -- when the next issue comes out, nonsubscribers can access the article) features an article by Charles Fishman on compact flourescent lightbulbs. These bulbs are the expensive twisty bulbs that look something like a soft serve ice cream cone. They've been available for a couple of decades, but haven't been widely embraced by the market. Environmentalists buy them because they use a lot less energy, but the broad market still has not caught on to the idea. In Fishman's words:

For two decades, CFLs lacked precisely what we expect from lightbulbs: strong, unwavering light; quiet; not to mention shapes that actually fit in the places we use bulbs. Now every one of those problems has been conquered. The bulbs come on quickly; their light is bright, white, steady, and silent; and the old U-shaped tubes--they looked like bulbs from a World War II submarine--have mostly been replaced by the swirl. Since 1985, CFLs have changed as much as cell phones and portable music players.

One thing hasn't changed: the energy savings. Compact fluorescents emit the same light as classic incandescents but use 75% or 80% less electricity.

What that means is that if every one of 110 million American households bought just one ice-cream-cone bulb, took it home, and screwed it in the place of an ordinary 60-watt bulb, the energy saved would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. One bulb swapped out, enough electricity saved to power all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island. In terms of oil not burned, or greenhouse gases not exhausted into the atmosphere, one bulb is equivalent to taking 1.3 million cars off the roads.

That's the law of large numbers--a small action, multiplied by 110 million.

The single greatest source of greenhouse gases in the United States is power plants--half our electricity comes from coal plants. One bulb swapped out: enough electricity saved to turn off two entire power plants--or skip building the next two.

Here's the bottom line for consumers -- each compact flourescent bulb uses 75% less energy than a regular lightbulb and it lasts 10 times longer than a regular incandescent lightbulb. There's an immediate bottom line dollar savings that consumers will be able to see in their wallet. Now here's the interesting thing - magnify the energy and cost savings across a couple of million consumers: what we find are even greater savings that get passed along -- lower energy costs, not as many bulbs going to landfills (reducing the potential tax burden of waste removal), lower environmental costs of energy production. It's a win win for everyone.

Now, after all the buildup, here's the story: Wal-Mart and GE are teaming up to promote compact flourescent bulbs as a wise consumer choice, not just for individuals, but for society as a whole. Let me say that again: Wal-Mart and GE. This isn't some big government program nor is it a fringe idea from the environmental movement. These are two really big businesses who see future concerns about energy prices and availability, and they've found a way to address those concerns in a way that benefits both consumers and the companies. I applaud them on their forward thinking.

Of course, I believe that as Christians, we're called to wise stewardship, even without the promotion of large corporations. I've been using compact flourescents for about 10 years now -- I had the first one burn out on me just last year. We see an appreciable difference in our electric bill. It's just plain good sense.

And that's how this relates to Crunchy Cons -- it's about a mindset and a lifestyle that is grounded in wisdom and good sense. More to come on that tomorrow.


Other wise-stewardship posts:
Earth Day, or Stewardship Day, you pick
Environmental Stewardship -- up close and personal