The New Rules of Green Marketing: Strategies, Tools and Inspiration for Sustainable Branding
One of the points she raised in her talk is the idea that many more consumers are interested in the life cycle of their product choices than have been in the past. This got me thinking about the life cycle choices of typical light sources. Let’s take three - incandescent / halogen, fluorescent (linear and compact), and LED. In order to think about this in a very basic, (blog post) kind of way, I broke the use of a source into three factors materials that comprise the light source, energy burned in use, and means of disposal. I’m not a materials expert or engineer by any means ( I welcome input on this) but I thought this might be a useful exercise in thinking about where the impacts of our choices may be.
Materials Used: Glass, Tungsten and conductive metals at base. My understanding is that the materials used in making incandescent and halogen lamps are both plentiful and highly commoditized.
Energy Consumed: If you’ve ever read anything I write you know how consumptive incandescent light is. For the light emitted - incandescent light is by far the most consumptive light source of the three we’re discussing. That’s an important point for a couple of reasons. While the production of the light bulb it self uses relatively little by way of resources and those resources are non-toxic (for the most part), a massive amount of pollution and resource consumption is created to power these lamps. We just don’t see it. Our energy is mostly produced by coal-fired plants, those plants not only destroy grounds where they are established, but they release carbon dioxide and mercury into the atmosphere. In fact, an incandescent lamp releases more mercury in it’s shorter life than a CFL.
Disposal: While it is possible to recycle a light bulb, it’s rarely done and the materials which comprise the light bulb will not be used in another light source.
Materials Used: Along with the phospherous gas inside the glass tube or coil there is of course mercury. As I’ve previously written about, there is a remarkably small amount of mercury in a CFL. That mercury is only released into the atmosphere if the lamp is broken.
Energy Consumed: A CFL uses about 1/5th the energy to produce the same amount of light as an incandescent bulb. That means 1/5th the carbon footprint and environmental damage over the much longer life of the lamp.
Disposal: Recycling programs are available for CFLs at most major retailers. Personally, I don’t think enough has been done to promote these programs or make them an understood part of the life cycle of CFL lamps. When properly recycled, these sources can be reused and their toxic components are never released into the atmosphere or allowed to leach into landfills.
Materials Used: I’m not qualified to list all of the materials that comprise an LED board or light bulb. Here’s what I can say. The materials used are not a pancea. LED is comprised of rare earth materials which are harder to mine, more expensive to refine and that must be shipped around the world (usually from China) to make it into their end products. These lamps also contain materials which are known to cause cancer. The materials are not released unless the lamp is badly damaged, but that damage could occur if the lamp is not properly disposed.
Energy Consumed: LED represents another major reduction in the energy needed to produce equivalent light. The light produced by a 60w incandescent bulb, is produced by an 8w LED.
Disposal: At present I am unaware of any recycling or reprocessing programs for LED lamps. This needs to be addressed by the industry. Even if they last their rated 50,000 hours, that’s not the end of time, it’s about 6 years.
Life Cycle analysis is hard. In general, our greatest enviromental impact is made by using energy. So LED is still the least impactful, but to be truly green we have to make sure CFL and LED lamps are properly recycled and their materials are reused for future, even more efficient light sources.
Last night I attended a Green Drinks NYC event. It was my first and I have to say I really enjoyed it. The speaker for the evening was Jacquie Ottman and she recently wrote a book (one of several) called