Wednesday, January 17, 2007

CFL Bribes: Practical Philanthropy

Two of the local organizations in which I am active are mounting environmental awareness programs and finding a quite receptive audience, especially post-An Inconvenient Truth. The Social Action Committee at my synagogue hosts a monthly letter-writing campaign. They provide the text, envelopes, and even the stamps, and buttonhole the folks attending various synagogue events to take the time to write the letters, but sometimes it's hard to get their attention. I volunteered to supply CFL bulbs to hand out as an incentive for writing a letter. I donated a box of 80 CFL bulbs I purchased on Ebay. Write a letter, get a free CFL bulb!! How often do you get rewarded for being a good citizen?

Likewise an Interfaith Community organization is running an Energy Efficiency Workshop open to the public. Since I enjoyed being the CFL Santa Claus, I volunteered to do the same thing for this event - everyone attending gets a free CFL. It is mentioned in the PR for the event, even.

Several different factors motivated my CFL donations. The first is that I knew in quantity they are not that expensive, about $1 a piece on Ebay. So I could be a bigshot for a very low bar entry. Secondly, I am impatient. Obtaining financing for this would require a huge amount of work, not worth it for such a small amounts and I knew I wouldn't miss the $160. Thirdly, I know people LOVE getting things for free, no matter how much money they have. I am Exhibit A on this point. And lastly, we have already put in all the CFL's our house can use, so we can't improve our efficiency anymore. However, we can replace other people's energy-guzzling incandescent bulbs! If all 160 bulbs are installed in homes, it will actually save us all a huge amount of electricity and correspondingly, carbon emissions, since around here electricity is generated by burning coal. Switching to CFL's is one of the most effective actions one can take.

Sometimes donating the tools for the change you advocate is more effective than donating money.

One caveat: the light from the Ebay CFL's is white light and a bit weird if you're not expecting it, especially in these 23 watt bulbs. (23 watts is equivalent to a 100 watt conventional bulb.) If you decide to do this, go with the smaller bulbs, or buy them somewhere like Costco which stocks more normal spectrum CFL's.


Ameet said...
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Anonymous said...


Your donation has a bigger impact than you might have imagined.

Each CFL switched saves about 72 kwh of electricity, or 108 lb CO2, over a year!*

Now, if you've donated 160 bulbs, you are talking about almost 8 tons of CO2 you've helped to divert from the air. That is equivalent to the CO2 emissions from driving a typical midsize sedan 17,000 miles!

(*Calculations for geeks: Each 75 watt bulb replaced with a 23 watt bulb represents a savings of about 50 watts per bulb. If the bulb is on for about 4 hours out of a day, switching to a CFL yields a savings of 4*30*50 or 6000 watt-hours, or 6 kilowatt-hours (kwh) a month. In one year this is a savings of 6*12 or 72 kwh of electricity for each bulb. Now electricity production emits 1 1/2 pounds of CO2 for each kwh [national average], so each of these bulbs is reducing 72*1.5 or 108 lb CO2 each year from the air.)