Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Green Memo: The Ban-The-Bulb Movement

Greenpeace UK calling on Ireland to ban the incandescent light bulb

The international movement to ban the sale of incandescent light bulbs is currently in its infancy. However, beginning in 2008, we believe the movement will pick up steam, joining plastic grocery bag bans as a major green campaign in the west.

As our readers know, we've been following closely the growing international movement by municipalities, states and provinces to ban plastic grocery bags. You can read our latest piece on plastic bag bans here.

We believe another ban movement is beginning, and that it will start to pick up steam next year. This movement will be advocating bans on the selling of incandescent light bulbs.

We see this ban taking many forms. First, we think there will be increased pressure put on retailers to stop selling incandescent light bulbs altogether, and to just offer compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which most already sell, for sale in their stores. Second, we believe on the governmental level, ban-the-bulb campaigns will be strongest first at the city or municipality levels, followed by states and provinces. Nationwide bans will come last, with some exceptions of course, such as the one discussed below.

One of the first major movements to ban incandescent light bulbs is beginning in Ireland. Greenpeace UK has launched a major online campaign and petition drive to get Ireland's environment minister, John Gormely, to author legislation to ban the incandescent bulb.

Greenpeace UK chose Ireland to start this campaign because the country uses more energy for lighting than any other country in the European Union (EU). Greenpeace UK wants the Irish government to pass a law which will set tough energy efficiency standards on household lighting.

The Irish government has already began a program to phase out incandescent light bulbs and has proposed an "eco-tax" on them in order to favor the use of CFLs Greenpeace supports the tax but says its not enough. Rather, they want the government to implement a law which insists on mandatory, ever-improving efficiency standards for household lighting. Such standards would make the incandescent bulb a thing of the past, they say.

You can read more about the Greenpeace UK proposal here, as well as see the online petition to the Irish government. Thus far 8,634 people have signed the petition. Greenpeace UK's goal is for 10,000 signatures.

Essentially, the group's plan isn't for the Irish government to pass a law that says outright that incandescent light bulbs can no longer be sold in the country. Rather, by passing its proposed lighting efficiency standards, which technologically incandescent bulbs can't meet, the old-school bulbs would just fade away.

In the UK there's currently a "voluntary" ban on incandescent bulbs in place. Bulbs with less than 30 lumens per watt could gradually disappear from the marketplace under the ban--but it is voluntary. A number of UK retailers have said they plan on completely eliminating the sale of incandescents in their stores. For example, the Woolworth's supermarket chain says it will stop selling incandescents by 2010. Additionally, the Co-op, a food retailer with numerous stores in the UK, has said it also will no longer sell incandescent bulbs after 2010.

Swedish furniture and household accessory retailer Ikea, which has stores in the UK and throughout the world, recently announced it will ban the sale of incandescent bulbs in all its stores worldwide by 2011.

Greenpeace UK is lobbying every major retailer that sells incandescent light bulbs in the UK, and tracking their response to the voluntary ban. Thus far one retailer, Currys, says it will stop selling incandescents by the end of this year.

Another UK retailer, Habitat, has committed to eliminating the bulbs from its shelves by the end of 2009. In Addition to Woolworths and the Co-op, other major retailers who say they will stop selling incandescents by the end of 2010 include, ASDA, Sainsburys and Morrisons. Sainsburys is the UK's number one retailer. ASDA is owned by Wal-Mart.

Tesco, the UK's number two retailer, and Waitrose, the leading upscale grocer in the UK, have committed to banning the incandescent bulbs from their shelves by the end of 2011. You can read a list, and time-line, of UK retailers who've thus far agreed to stop selling incandescents here.

The move to ban incandescent bulbs also is picking up steam elsewhere in the EU, but not yet to the degree it has in the UK and Ireland. The movement also is starting to develop in the U.S. Cities such as San Francisco, which is the first U.S. city to ban plastic grocery bags, and a few others are considering legislation regarding household lighting efficiency standards and possible incandescent bulb bans.

Groups also are beginning to put pressure on major U.S. retailers like Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, to stop selling the bulbs. Earlier this year Wal-Mart came out with its own private label CFL, which it's selling in some cases for as little as 99 cents each.

We expect to see the movement gain major traction in the U.S. next year however as Green Peace and other groups begin to focus more on retailers, like they are in the UK, and as more cities look at local legislation. In the U.S., such environmental legislation generally starts at the local level, then moves to the states and federal government after.

We also expect to see some progressive retailers stop selling the incandescent bulbs on their own. Major U.S. retailers like Home Depot and Lowe's already devote very little shelf space to incandescents relative to the amount of space they now are devoting to CFLs. Further, public utilities systems in the U.S. are offering rebates on the purchase of CFLs by consumers. These rebates bring the price of CFLs down to that of incandescents, and are resulting in huge sales increases in the CFL category.

This is an issue that, like plastic grocery bag bans, is going to grow rapidly internationally. We will be watching it closely and reporting on it regularly for our readers.

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