104 pounds in 18 seconds


Compare CFL lightbulb adoption in your areas versus the rest of America

18 seconds is the time it takes to change a lightbulb. For each bulb you switch from incandescent to compact fluorescent, you’ll save 104 lbs of CO2 per year and about $30 in energy bills. For most Americans, that’s an equivalent impact to not driving for three days.

As such, we’re pretty impressed with a new campaign put together by a bunch of organizations from across the public and private sectors and backed by a slick web site from Yahoo! The campaign is called 18seconds.org, and it consists of a set of tools for tracking and evangelizing the adoption of compact fluorescent light bulbs across the U.S.

Fed by scanner data coordinated by Nielsen, the tools show you just how many CFLs you and your neighbors are buying, with the clock starting at 1/1/07. The counts are already impressively high, and they reveal that the fight against climate change is taking place throughout the country, on every coast and in the heartland.

The number #1 state for CFLs? Arkansas. #2? Wyoming. Our home city of San Francisco comes in at paltry #104 on the list. Bad data? Trend? Discuss!

One overlooked item is this campaign is convincing people to throw away the box of unused incandescents taking up space in their closets. This stockpiled inventory is one of the sources of inertia keeping CFLs from spreading as quickly as they otherwise might. Although it might feel wrong, throwing away those unused incandescents and making room for CFLs is actually one of the best things you can do for the environment.

So get started now. Check your hometown out on the site and see how you compare to the rest of America.

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  1. elizabeth - February 26, 2007

    Could some impartial and knowledgeable person explain to me the environmental impact of the mercury contained in each CFL bulb. If there’s really widespread adoption of CFLs isn’t this going to mean a lot of mercury? Where will it go when the bulbs finally give out – are we supposed to recycle them, put them in the landfill? Please explain.

  2. FD - February 26, 2007

    Looks like the bible belt likes their CFLs. Looks like the north east and north west, not so much. Maybe the GOP and Dems should switch stances on the environment. ; )

  3. Katie - February 26, 2007

    response to FD
    Could it be that the data of CFLs purchased is only within the last year or so when being “green” has become so trendy and mass-marketed?
    I know I’ve had CFLs being used in my house for the past 3 years – I’m a Dem living in the Northeast – and since they last so long, I haven’t had to buy new ones and therefore probably not included in the data.

  4. Tom Arnold - February 26, 2007

    With proper disposal, mercury emissions drop 40%.
    However, you must dispose of these bulbs (as well as cell phones, computers, etc) appropriately.

  5. Tonya - February 26, 2007

    So please elaborate as to why throwing out incandescent is the best thing you can do for the environment. I have yet to see any data, stories, or whatever on the whole lifecycle of light bulbs. Everything seems to focus on the moment of purchase on out. You are not Walmart trying to make money off of me so please give me the whole story. What is the environmental cost of production for both items. The least of all already produced items. Plus half of my light fixtures are not appropriate for CFLs (enclosed fixtures being one example).

  6. brent - February 26, 2007

    The reason the data is currently skewed toward the Bible belt is because not all stores are accounted for yet. We are still working on getting the DIYs (Home Depot, Lowes, etc.) to share their scanner data as well. Until then Wal-Mart accounts for a significant portion of the total sales. And because Wal-Mart has been strongly encouraging employees to purchase CFLs Arkansas tops the list.

    In case you’re wondering, 65% of CFL sales are reflected in the heat map.

    You can also click the ‘?’ in the top right of the scoreboard for more information.

  7. tom - February 26, 2007

    I don’t have the numbers of the top of my head, but environmental cost of lightbulbs is generally found in burning coal to power them. Any body have the full lifecycle analysis handy?
    As for enclosed fictures, you’d be surprised. Check out some of the online bulb sites, and you’ll find a variety of shapes and sizes. We’re a big fan of the cold cathode variety that are even dimmable.

  8. Terry - February 26, 2007

    We have a incandescent bulbs in our house. We rarely run them at full brightness as we put them all on dimmers. How does dimming them affect the CO2 footprint?

  9. Mani - February 26, 2007

    Since incandescent bulbs are about 10-15% efficient, the rest of electricity turns into heat. So in winter months,using incandescent bulbs will not harm the environment as much, as it will supplement your other heating sources. However, summer months is another story.

  10. Tom - February 26, 2007

    Mani: I think lightbulbs are fairly poor efficiency heaters. Better to use those precious electrons in a heat pump or other more efficient unit.
    Terry: I’m not an electrical engineer, but I’d imagine that dimmers are pretty efficient, and that you can just reduce the impact by dimming when apprpriate. (TerraPass EE’s please keep me honest). However, that’t not really the question. The question is how to satisfy your demand for lumens with the minimum amount of electricity. Daylight and CFLs are the best we have right now.

  11. Anonymous - February 26, 2007

    I have the exact same question as the one posed by Elizabeth on February 26. What happens to all the mercury in the CFLs? If people do recycle CFLs, is there a SAFE mechanism for the disposal of the mercury? What is it? Wouldn’t it be a shame if we curtailed global warming only to pollute our air, water and soil with mercury!!

  12. Dave R - February 26, 2007

    Anonymous Post #11:
    Please see post #4 by Tom.

  13. Mani - February 26, 2007

    If a light bulb is 100 Watts, and say 15% converted to light, all the rest, 85 watts will be “wasted” as heat. So incandescent bult is 85% efficient heat source!
    I know it sounds crazy, but I use CLF March-Nov, and switch over to my stack of incandescent lights in winter months!

  14. Jonathan - February 26, 2007

    in our city we have a “Hazmat” collection day, six months (paint, chemicals, etc.). I encourage citizens to bring any spent flouresants to this event for proper disposal. we also have companies that will come and pick up large ammounts (i work for a store)and recycle the materials, including mercury. at my house i also have 90% LED lighting, which is more efficient than both CF and indcan., but is not yet more cost effective than CF’s.

  15. Aaron A. - February 26, 2007

    Nitpick: The website says that they’re counting from 1/1/07, not 1/7/07.

    [Ed Note: Fixed!]

    Katie (#3): I would have to think that that’s why the Pacific Northwest looks so bad here (Washington is #37, Oregon #42). I thought CFL’s were pretty popular already out here, but Oregonians (Oreganos?) must have bought their bulbs before Yahoo! started counting.

    Brent (#6): Can I interpret you use of “we” to mean that you’re part of the 18 Seconds project? And if you are, do you know when/if you’ll have data for Alaska & Hawaii? I doubt Alaska’s rank will be very high, but I’d like to know where we stand.

    Mani (#13): Your figures are about right, but are you in a position to take advantage of that heat? If it’s a wall- or ceiling-mounted light, the heat is probably going up and out. Still, if you have good insulation, your plan makes at least some sense. I’m too lazy for that; I leave the CFL’s in all year, turn the heater up a bit during the winter, and rely on a battalion of big fuzzy blankets to make up the difference.

  16. Aaron A. - February 26, 2007

    Katie said: Could it be that the data of CFLs purchased is only within the last year or so when being “green” has become so trendy and mass-marketed?

    Quite possibly. People love to feel like they’re doing something good for the world, especially if it involves little to no time, effort, or money. We don’t want to look back at our younger days and wonder what happened to the idealist within. We want to believe that we’ll still fight the good fight, whenever we find the time.

    But let’s suppose people really do care. The in-store cost of CFL’s usually exceeds that of a similar quantity of incandescent bulbs, but the gap has been narrowing (at least in my neighborhood). Between the more competitive costs, CFL’s receiving more shelf space over the past few years, that could have something to do with it too.

    It could also be consumer education; maybe John Q. Public doesn’t know that CFL’s are out there, or that they’re cheaper in the long run, or that they won’t make that annoying hum like the old flourescents in the office, or that he doesn’t need a new light fixture to use them, or that they’re available in that yellow tint cryptically referred to as “soft white”. With this newfound knowledge, CFL’s make a more viable option. For the last five years or so, I’ve replaced the light bulbs in every apartment I’ve had with CFL’s, and left a full pack of bulbs behind for the new tenants. I like to think of it as a public service.

    — A.

  17. Doris - February 26, 2007

    LEDs are a good idea–in fixtures where they can be used. I just wrote up a mercury comparison for my church bulletin; someone want to check my math? 1 fluorescent bulb used instead of incandescent saves about 500 pounds or 226.8 kg of coal, and a fluorescent bulb on average contains 20 mg of mercury. Anthracite coal (I live in Pennsylvania) is about 20 ppm mercury, so a fluorescent bulb has over 200 times less (227 x less?) mercury than is in the coal it saves. The problem of course is that the mercury goes to your local landfill and if you break a bulb at home you need to air out your house, whereas it can more easily be caught at the power plant (in PA homeowners don’t have to recycle fluorescent bulbs–businesses do, but I doubt that the law is enforced).

  18. Mary - February 26, 2007

    Can someone talk more about what bulbs are safe to use on dimmers? Specifically, 50W track lights, “pot” lights, even candelabra bulbs?
    Also, what about my mini halogen track lights (one set on a dimmer, one not)? How energy efficient are these? These are very small bulbs that look like baby outdoor flood bulbs. Any info is appreciated. Thanks!

  19. Xta - February 27, 2007

    Doris – LEDs and CFLs aren’t the same thing – LED stands for “light emitting diode” and CFL stands for “compact flourescent light”. LED based bulbs are another low-energy option but currently one that costs a LOT more than even CFLs. I know because I bought a couple ($45 for a 60W equivalent!). I wanted to support the new technology and try them out – especially the dimmability of them. As a technology they’re not quite there yet but I predict that in a couple of years they’ll become really viable.

    Of course the one LED variant that really IS viable now is christmas lights. Yes, it seems like a lot to pay $25-30 for a string of lights but in that case they use 99% less than a comparable string of incandescents. The reason is that incandescent lights are even LESS efficient the smaller they are. So those tiny little seed bulbs use 3.6W each – doesn’s sound like a lot but a string of 100 is using 360W!! A string of 100 LEDs will use 3.6W for the ENTIRE STRING. I bought a couple of strings of these and I LOVE them. Use them year round – so pretty. Even if you only use them during the holiday season you can still save $5 of electricity a month (asuming your electricity costs $.10/kwh and you use them 5h/day) and they pay for themselves in about 2 years. And if you take care of them a string should last 20 years – the bulbs hardly ever burn out.

  20. Anonymous - February 27, 2007

    Aaron A –
    I can’t take any credit whatsoever for the site as I joined after it was built but, yes, I’m part of the team affiliated with it.

    As for your question about when we may get Alaska and Hawaii data I’m afraid I don’t have an answer to that. We have requested the data from Neilsen, but have yet to find out if it’s even available. I’ve asked around with some folks who use their data and have been told that they focus on the continental US only.

    Not the answer you were looking for, but we are continuously looking to improve the site and that, along with getting 100% of retailers reporting, is on the top of our list.

  21. Joel Monka - February 28, 2007

    Speaking as someone who has been using CFLs for nearly four years now, I must say that some of the numbers look extremely suspect to me. To begin with, no matter WHAT they tell you, those bulbs hardly last any longer than incandescent bulbs do. In less than four years, I’ve replaced every single one of them at least once, and many more than once. Considering not only the mercury, but the extra manufacturing effort a CFL takes compared to the simple incandescent, I’m really beginning to wonder just how much savings there truly is, long term. I’ve been keeping records on my use, but I don’t have the manufacturing numbers yet. Personally, I’m pegging my hopes to perfecting LEDs.

  22. pradwastes - March 2, 2007

    I have changed nearly every light bulb to a CFL. Thanks to Sothern Califoria Edison, the price on these is very little. The result has been a 45% reduction in KWHs and a 50% reduction in the electric bill, compared with last year. There remains the refigerator, air conditioner and washing machine and driers that stil need electricity to run. I am looking into installing some solar cells to reduce the Edison bill to only $5 per month to keep it hooked up.
    The cost of the CFLs is highly subsided and the cost of elelectric power has increased.

  23. pradwastes - March 2, 2007

    I have changed nearly every light bulb to a CFL. Thanks to Sothern Califoria Edison, the price on these is very little. The result has been a 45% reduction in KWHs and a 50% reduction in the electric bill, compared with last year. There remains the refigerator, air conditioner and washing machine and driers that stil need electricity to run. I am looking into installing some solar cells to reduce the Edison bill to only $5 per month to keep it hooked up.
    The cost of the CFLs is highly subsided and the cost of elelectric power has increased.

  24. pradwastes - March 2, 2007

    I have changed nearly every light bulb to a CFL. Thanks to Sothern Califoria Edison, the price on these is very little. The result has been a 45% reduction in KWHs and a 50% reduction in the electric bill, compared with last year. There remains the refigerator, air conditioner and washing machine and driers that stil need electricity to run. I am looking into installing some solar cells to reduce the Edison bill to only $5 per month to keep it hooked up.
    The cost of the CFLs is highly subsided and the cost of elelectric power has increased.

  25. Will - March 6, 2007

    I live in Arkansas and have CFL’s in every light fixture in my home and have encouraged at least 5 other people to do the same. I also don’t have trash service because I recycle almost everything I use. And surprise I am a very conservative Republican. It’s sad that politics gets involved in talk about the environment because people can do things such as recycle, buy energy saving appliances, and buy more fuel-efficient vehicles without the government ever getting involved. Also in Arkansas, Wal Mart strongly promotes CFL’s in every store and out West Wal Mart has fewer stores due to several factors, including politics.

  26. Aaron A. - March 8, 2007

    Hi Mary,
    I hope you’re still reading this thread, because I found a good article regarding regarding dimmable CFL’s:
    — A.

  27. Annie Beckett - March 23, 2007

    A little rain on the CFL parade. I’m one of the 14% or so of the population who’s highly reactive to mercury. And even in that crowd I’m extreme. I became debilitated 15 years ago from high nickle content new dental work that pulled the mercury out of my amalgams faster and no one could figure out for two years why I had tremors, couldn’t sleep, lost half my hair, had oral thrush and hypersalivation, lost 23 pounds, had electrical sensations, rash, red palms and soles that cracked and wouldn’t heal…you get the idea. The active condition’s called Pink Disease and afflicted many babies in the 30’s and early 40’s when mercury was added to baby and teething powders. The condition is called acrodynia, in English mercury allergy. I got all my dental work out (replaced by composits), and began to heal, but it took me several years as mercury is first and foremost a neuro toxin. Starting last fall we switched out all our incandescents for CFLs before we knew they contained mercury ($1000 worth) over five months, and I became sick all over again. It took awhile for me to realize what was causing the familiar symptoms. Even when I discovered the bulbs contain mercury I couldn’t believe they could affect me because the mercury’s in a vacuum and its a heavy molecule. How would it get out? But we removed the CFLs. The symptoms abated, but now I’m in treatment with an environmental med group; at least this time there is treatment. How it gets out is: contamination by breakage in shipment (two arrived broken in our shipments and now I know there’s a hazardous material protocol for cleaning up a broken CFL: DO NOT VACUUM, wear disposable gloves, use damp paper towel and duck tape and dispose of all in a sealed plastic bag and take to hazardous waste…this is on many state energy sites and on the EPA site I believe, along with the fact that CFLs must be recycled as hazardous waste. WHY isn’t this on the packaging???). How else it may get out: contamination of the outside of the bulb during manufacture and absorption by the bulb glass of the gassified mercury within. The fact that these two sources of contamination have occured (and no doubt continue to in most CFL manufacturing), is contained in a press release by Philips Lighting in summer ’06 touting its new ‘green’ CFL line with reduced mercury, a capsule that prevents the mercury from being released before the bulb is sealed and the use of new glass that doesn’t absorb as much mercury (Google Philips green CFL line). There’s a bill before the CA legislature to make CFLs mandatory and ban incandescents. Gore urged the US Congress to do the same thing this week. If that happens I’m a shut-in living by candlelight and ditto my 90 year old mother and my sister; we all have the same (likely hereditary), hyper-reactivity to mercury and have all been sickened by dental work and thimerisol in vaccines. Okay, I’ll accept my fate for the greater good if it has to come to that, but it doesn’t. GE will be out with a 50% more efficient incandescent in months and one the equal of CFLs by 2012. The led sector is making huge strides in developing home lighting. Neither technology has associated public health risks. And while my case is extreme, I have to wonder what ubiquitous CFL saturated environments are going to do to over time to infants, children, people with debility or immune challenges, the elderly, pets… Please urge law makers not do the radical across the board thing. The questions about the mercury impact of CFLs are valid and while the other technologies are coming to fruition there are other choices we can make to shrink our carbon footprints. We’ve made many and shrunk ours 25% this year even without CFLs. One very cool thing we did (pun intended) is buy a SunFrost fridge. Made to order and with great integrity in Arcata, CA, it uses 1/8 the power of our 16 year old fridge, which we’ve decomissioned and recycled. It also keeps veggies fresh right out in the open on its shelves (no plastic bags), 2 1/2 times longer than a conventional fridge. It’s 2/3 more efficient than and energy star rated fridge and much better made. Check them out at sunfrost.com. They’re wonderful appliances.