For a typical consumer, high initial cost is a major deterrent against purchasing compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Sure, CFLs save electricity and therefore money, but how much? Is it worth shelling out over $5 per lamp when one can get an incandescent bulb that performs the same duty for $0.30 or less?
The return on investment (ROI) calculation for multiple CFLs versus incandescent bulbs is tractable with a pocket calculator. However, most consumers don’t carry calculators to crunch cosines while shopping. Plus, evaluating the numbers can be tedious if many different bulbs are considered. In short, consumers often do not have enough information to decide on the fly which lighting technology is most appropriate and economical.
To better educate their customers about potential savings realized from CFLs, Wal-Mart teamed up with lighting manufacturer General Electric (GE), as reported in “Wal-Mart’s Bright Idea” by The Motley Fool. A GE press release, “Consumers Can Compare Light Bulbs, Energy Savings at Select Wal-Mart Stores”, describes an early incarnation of this partnership: displays placed at Wal-Marts throughout the country that compare energy usage of a standard incandescent light bulb to a compact fluorescent bulb generating identical illumination level.
A newer version of these displays is now appearing in Wal-Marts in Texas. These displays allow customers to input various types and numbers of lamps. Based on these inputs, the display then calculates the value of the energy saved for each unique combination of bulbs.
By comparing estimated lifetime savings to the initial high cost of CFLs, consumers can make a more educated decision about which kind of lighting technology is most economical.
Importantly, according to The Motley Fool, by educating consumers to buy CFLs, Wal-Mart and GE may actually loose revenue. While CFLs are more expensive up front than incandescent bulbs, they last much longer than their price multiple. Hence consumer expenditures on illumination will drop over time as CFLs become more widely adopted.
Wal-Mart and GE have already made impressive advances in adopting and inventing sustainable energy and conservation technologies (for example, see Wal-Mart Employs Lighting Controls in Refrigerated Cases and Traum Visits GE Global Research Center). However, I really appreciate that these companies are not hording the benefits of energy efficiency for themselves. They are passing benefits of these technologies on to their customers, even if it means lost revenue. This behavior is important evidence that desire for global stewardship (and not merely public recognition) is the driving motivator behind the sustainability campaigns of both companies.