Monday, November 27, 2006

Changing the world - one lightbulb at a time

Courtesy of Andrew Leonard and "How the World Works" I found this Fast Company article on the impact of Wal-Mart selling compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). These bulbs save users money, they save enormous amounts of energy, and they last a really long time.

Post hurricane season 2005, Wal-Mart stocked up on CFLs and lowered the price on them in the Gulf States' stores. They flew off the shelves. They "rolled-back" the price in other stores around the country and the race was on - read Leonard's blog or Fishman's article for more on the implications of this - for lightbulb users, for energy policy (and, if you care, for Wal-Mart, and for GE). The very factors that make the bulbs so positive (energy savings and longevity) means that the manufacturers of the bulbs (GE) aren't necessarily thrilled about selling more of them.

What does this mean for philanthropy? It is an important story about how change really happens. Environmentalists have been promoting CFLs for a long time. They've made some progress - probably most of us in the "save energy" choir have already changed light bulbs. But the market matters to changing the behavior of the other 100s of millions of lightbulb users, SUV drivers, corn-syrup eaters, and so on. And the market players (as shown in the backstory about GE and Wal-Mart) don't always have the interests that you would expect.

Have you changed your lightbulbs yet?

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