Wal-Mart pitches environmentally friendly light bulbs as money-savers

Wednesday, January 3, 2007

These bulbs are not new, but advances have now made them cheaper and more effective.

In an ambitious move, the world's largest retailer, Wal-Mart, is seeking to make 2007 a year of increased energy efficiency by pushing the sales of environmentally friendly light bulbs.

Wal-Mart hopes to sell 100 million 13-watt, compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in the coming year. This increase by the sales giant would increase the total sales of the bulbs in the United States by 50 percent, according to industry statistics cited by the New York Times.

"We have a fundamental belief that all families should have access to affordable, sustainable goods and compact fluorescent light bulbs are a great way for our customers to save money," Wal-Mart vice president of corporate strategy and sustainability Andy Ruben said in a written statement.

"Customers will not only save money when shopping with us, but also on their electric bills."

These bulbs are not new technology, they've been available since the early 1980s, but recent advances have now made them cheaper and more effective than ever before.

Wal-Mart boasts that a three pack of the bulbs costs an average of $7.58 with each bulb lasting five to seven years. Over the course of the life of the bulb, the change will save customers about $30 when compared to a standard 60-watt bulb.

But the savings will impact far more than just the pocketbook. Wal-Mart says if it meets its goal in 2007, the cleaner energy used will prevent 22 billion pounds of coal from burning at power plants and keep 45 billion pounds of greenhouses gasses from being released.

This is equivalent to removing 700,000 cars from the nation's roadways.

"The environment," CEO H. Lee Scott told the New York Times, "is begging for the Wal-Mart business model."

Locally, Wal-Mart store management seemed unaware of the new green focus and declined to comment on it. A trip to the light-fixture section of the William Street store in Cape Girardeau showed that CFL bulbs outnumbered their counterparts by more than two to one in shelf space. There is also a glassed-in display touting the cost benefits of the bulbs.

One Wal-Mart light bulb shopper, Edward Wells of Advance, Mo., said he estimates he spends about $5 per light fixture on bulbs annually. He said he has purchased CFL bulbs in the past and likes them.

"They're great bulbs -- resistant, too. I have one in my work area that I dropped and it still works, so I was impressed with that," he said.

Wells said the main selling point for him, though, would be the bulb's light.

"That's the big thing, if it gives off the same glow, people will buy it. If it's one of those dull yellow colors they probably won't," he said.

Another shopper, Charles Vaughn of Cape Girardeau, said he uses CFL bulbs in his basement and garage but not in more visible spaces. He doesn't like the spiral look of the bulbs. "They look nuttier than a fruitcake," he said.

Vaughn doesn't think Wal-Mart's campaign to promote the bulbs, which will include touch-screen computer monitors where customers can calculate savings will sway many people. "I think most people will take the easy way out. People are in such a hurry in our society," that they'll buy what they always have, he said.

Southeast Missouri State University professor Dr. Alan Journet sees Wal-Mart's move as a shift to capture the dollars of the environmentally conscious consumer.

"It is clear testimony to the fact that there are profits to be made in catering to the environmental interests of the public," he said.

Evidence of the environmentally-savvy consumer was everywhere in 2006, Journet said. He pointed to American automakers losing out to the fuel-efficient Japanese brands, supermarkets like Schnucks offering more organic produce and Wal-Mart's own pledge to sell "sustainably certified" fish as some examples.

"What used to be a narrow niche market is now turning into a broad market that includes much of the American population," Journet said.

tgreaney@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 245

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