Backing Off the Ban
March 7, 2012 - 4:38pm

Replacing incandescent bulbs with compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs is no new concept. It is one of the biggest pushes of the green movement and perhaps one of the easiest practices to adopt. Some tout the wonders of CFLs so much that several states discussed the possibility of banning incandescent bulbs all together.

Hot on the heels of all the talk on global warming, the push to ban incandescent bulbs started in Australia and Europe. Both governments eventually backed off the rush for such a strong move. Yet it was enough for the United States to catch wind of the plans and devise its own.

“The concept just took on a life of its own, I think because it coincided with the point where awareness of the climate change issues had reached a crescendo and really hit public awareness early this spring,” says sustainability expert Meg Smith, Lighting Consultant with Lightolier/iGEN and also a member of IESNA.

According to a presentation by Susan Anderson, IESNA, LC and Manager of Energy Relations with Osram Sylvania, proposed bills in California included a ban of incandescents by 2012 and proposed bills in Connecticut planned to fine retailers who sold incandescent lamps, among other regulations – legislation proposals that could help us save energy as a nation given that the success of CFLs as an energy-efficient alternative to incandescent bulbs is an established technology.

According to Energy Star, CFL bulbs use about 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs. CFLs can also last up to ten times longer than regular bulbs.

But despite the energy savings CFLs provide, not everyone agrees that incandescent bulbs should be banned, and none of the legislative bills listed above have become law.

Instead of trying to completely ban incandescent bulbs, lawmakers are now focusing on drafting bills that would call for the study of efficient alternatives to using incandescent lamps. Even pending legislation is geared toward setting standards for lumen per watt emissions, as opposed to standards on bulb types. Whether a lighting fixture uses a CFL or incandescent bulb, how it’s used will lead directly to its ability to save energy.

“Ultimately I think there is a need to put efficiency standards on incandescent lamps,” says Smith. “But I think the bigger picture is you can recycle things, you can recycle mercury, you can recycle the lamps and you can make very energy-efficient systems. But what’s happening up to now is we make it more efficient so people can build more and more and use more and more. Sooner or later we’re going to have to address the actual consumption issue.”

The Illuminating Engineering Society of America New York chapter (IESNY) is also calling for a wider discussion of the issue. The IESNY hosted a lecture series on issues surrounding an incandescent ban over the past several months. Presentations focused on codes, legislation, health, application and design issues.

What happens with legislation from here on out remains to be seen, but reducing our energy consumption, no matter the technology type, is a sure strategy in the meantime.

“Having very efficient lighting systems is important -- that’s how I earn my living,” says Smith. “You can impact the amount of energy being used and therefore reduce the emissions and reduce the carbon footprint. But whatever you’re producing is going to have the emissions issue until you control it.”

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