Woolworths won't stop selling power crazy light bulbs, so we've cleared the shelves for them

Posted by jamie — 14 July 2007 at 9:20am - Comments

A Greenpeace volunteer locked on to baskets of inefficient light bulbs

It's going to be a busy day at branches of Woolworths across the UK today as the Greenpeace Light Brigade pay them a visit to ask why they're still selling old-fashioned, power crazy light bulbs. Woolworths came bottom of our new league table, ranking light bulb retailers according to their commitments to phase out inefficient bulbs, so our volunteers have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Take action!

Call your local branch of Woolworths and ask why they're still selling power crazy bulbs

Email Trevor Bish-Jones, CEO of Woolworths

As I write, calls are coming into the office to say that in London, Edinburgh, Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Southampton and Cardiff, shelves have been cleared of inefficient bulbs, leaving only the more efficient (and, frankly, quite sexy) varieties left. They're also handing out free efficient bulbs to convince shoppers that there is a better alternative to technology that should have gone out with flares and Showaddywaddy.

Over the past few months, the Light Brigade have been sneaking into supermarkets and DIY shops, popping stickers onto stocks of inefficient light bulbs that point out just how wasteful and outdated they are. Now they've come out into the open to point the finger of shame at Woolworths and urge them to do much better.

Many retailers have already pledged to stop selling inefficient light bulbs by 2011 but some have gone even further - Habitat will phase them out by 2009 and Currys have already stopped placing orders for fresh stock. In our league table, however, Woolworths received a 'W' for 'worst': several other retailers fared little better (ASDA, Ikea, Morrisons and Somerfield, I'm talking to you), but Woolies came last for several reasons:

  • They've made no commitment to phase out inefficient light bulbs, not even by the government's proposed voluntary deadline of 2011;
  • They've not indicated to us that they'd support a ban on inefficient bulbs;
  • The efficient compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) bulbs that they do sell go for over 10 times as much as the cheapest power crazy bulbs, whereas other retailers sell them for as little as 49p;
  • For every CFL bulb they sell, no less than seven inefficient ones are sold as well. Even though Ikea also languishes near the bottom of our table, they sell a far higher proportion of efficient light bulbs - they make up 41 per cent of all Ikea light bulb sales.

So, hardly surprising they came last but although we've singled out Woolworths, there's a lot that all retailers can do to help tackle climate change. By responding to customer demand for more energy-efficient products - making them more affordable and readily available - and phasing out electricity guzzlers like those incandescent light bulbs, they can set a lead and show the government that there is support for tough minimum energy efficiency requirements to be enforced.

Changing light bulbs may seem like small change, but think about this - if every bulb in the UK was an efficient CFL one, we could close two medium-sized power stations. Given that there are only 11 nuclear and 18 coal-fired stations in the UK, that's a significant saving.

After all, you wouldn't buy a washing machine with an 'E' energy efficiency rating, so why settle for the same rating on a light bulb?

Old inefficient light bulbs transfer a high percentage of energy to heat but low energy light sources contribute more to pollution due to the use of metals such as mercury in production.
If you regard the old light bulbs as highly efficient heat very very cheap heat and light sources then the picture is transformed, if you remove an efficient heat source in a building 99% of the time the heating system will adjust and increase its output.
The energy saving is thus minimal or even zero.
I will refer everyone to the recent debate in New Scientist letters column for more information. Low energy light bulb are not all the are cracked up to be:
Meanwhile Greenpeace, we are missing the bigger picture. what decides the overall energy use of a building is how much energy escapes plus the inefficiency of the present methods of energy production.
There are ways of directly producing electrical and mechcanical energy from the sea which are being totally ignored by researchers and government. An area of 1sq Km with a tidal level change of just 2 metres can produce 10MJ of energy twice in every 24 hour period, why is this energy source with zero carbon footprint not being developed?

The mercury in CFL bulbs can and should be recycled - that way it's not being introduced into landfill and the water table. And burning fossil fuels such as coal also releases mercury (amongst other nasties) into the atmosphere, so unless your incandescent bulbs are powered by the wind or the sun, they're also polluting with heavy metals.

But describing incandescents as "highly efficient" heat sources is, I'm sorry to say, utter poppycock. How many light bulbs do you think it would take to heat a room to the same level as your central heating? Not to mention the inefficiency inherent in centralised energy production that allows around 60 per cent of the energy generated to be lost as heat, plus another chunk in transmission from the power station to the point of use. Increased energy efficiency in the home is a must (and that includes light bulbs), but that goes hand in hand with much greater efficiency in energy production.

By the way, if you're interested in tidal power, you should take a look at our new film, The Convenient Solution. Now that's what I call carbon neutral (well, almost).

web editor
gpuk

I have to disagree entirely with the assertion that the heat contributed to a room by standard light bulbs is not significant. I have personally used this method many times to raise the temperature of a cold hotel room which I have been staying in, when the central heating system has not been functioning at the time I required it. If on the other hand, I put on extra clothing instead of turning up the heating, it would therefore follow that this extra layer of clothing will have consumed energy during its manufacture, it would also follow that the purchase of the extra clothing will have added to the wealth of a manufacturer, retailer and distributor all of whom will avail themselves of consumer luxuries which will have used energy in their production.

It would seem that when we are implementing an energy saving measure, the saving may be cancelled out by a myriad of other elements in the process which tend to go unnoticed by almost everyone.

I have noticed that in our extremely “dumbed down” society most people are unaware of the scale of the industrial and manufacturing processes involved in producing the most basic of commodities. Entire mountains are being blown apart to gather the raw ore which is then processed in massive energy consuming factories to produce billets of steel, copper, aluminium, etc. These are then used in the production of the tools and machines that make the tools and machines that help to make more tools and machines that help to make end products such as television sets, fridges, washing machines, aeroplanes, cars etc. etc.

A low energy light bulb has a more complex manufacturing process, it has considerably more glass that an standard light bulb, it contains a substantial amount of plastic, it has a circuit board with components as well as additional chemicals which a standard light bulb does not contain. I would suggest that the energy saved during its use will have actually been spent during the four main stages of its life; 1 pre-manufacturing of all the extra raw materials, 2 actual manufacturing, 3 profitable sales stages and 4 profitable recycling stage. Lets not forget this forth stage as if recycling plants do it for love not money, we really must remember the hypothetical “Trevor” who is the managing director of a highly lucrative recycling plant, he has two homes, one of which is a long haul flight away, he has two luxury cars, a wife with expensive taste, two daughters of which one got married recently in a eight thousand pound wedding dress with a twenty five thousand pound reception followed by three weeks in the Maldives. This consumption has a huge knock on effect, and we wont even start to imagine the consumption of the middle management and other employees of the recycling company.

Most of us will have been taught the Law of Conservation of Energy during our school physics days, the law relates to the energy in any system and how it may take on various forms. The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. Therefore the sum of all the energies in the system is a constant.

I would suggest that this law has implications far beyond the world of physics and may actually be just as relevant in the area of environmentalism. The idea that saving the environment can be successfully achieved via methods such as recycling (in its current form) and fitting energy saving light bulbs may be fundamentally flawed. The concept of carbon foot printing does in almost all cases not take into account the broader implications of an energy saving measure.

We must remember that when Ms Jones came down from the tree at the Newbury Bypass and decided to have little Sophie and Beatress, an entire planets worth of industry started to provide a lifetimes worth of commodities for them. Oops, there goes another mountain of iron ore and a thousand barrels of oil. The problem isn't to do with the number of light bulbs but rather the number of consumers.

In the current movement to “safe the planet” no one dares to mention the obvious, which is, the entire industrial base on our planet exists for one reason only, and that is to cater for the consumptive needs of billions of humans, it would therefore follow that a reduction in human numbers would halt and or diminish the level of industrialisation. Fewer people would mean fewer products with the inevitable closure of many types of industry. This is of course the catch 22, no government would ever actively want their population numbers to fall dramatically, this would mean loss of trillions of Euro, Pounds or Dollars generated through the many taxes which people pay during their existence, especially the purchase taxes on the billions of products which are consumed daily. This is why we are lead blindly down a road of recycling and energy saving, being told that it is effective and we should be proud of ourselves, oh what fools we humans can be.

To answer your first point, incandescent light bulbs do of course emit heat but it's still a very inefficient method of warming up a chilly room. Defra's own Market Transformation Programme stated that replacing that same wasted heat with heat generated by a gas-powered system would reduce related emissions by 60 per cent (quoted from Mark Prescott's BBC article - I can' track down the original, it's been mysteriously removed pending a review related to the energy white paper).

To address the broader issues you raise, everything we do consumes resources so any form of artificial lighting (even candles) is going to create an impact somewhere. Unless we return to a hunter-gatherer culture, it's something we're going to have to get a handle on and deal with more responsibly. I think there's growing awareness that our actions have consequences that can be very complex to understand (just read the heated debate about over-consumption going on elsewhere on the site) but the sheer scale of it - probably a cause of globalisation and international trade - often scares people. It scares me.

More people will consume more resources, but you're right - it will be a brave politician who tries to tackle that ultra-sensitive problem.

web editor
gpuk

Old inefficient light bulbs transfer a high percentage of energy to heat but low energy light sources contribute more to pollution due to the use of metals such as mercury in production. If you regard the old light bulbs as highly efficient heat very very cheap heat and light sources then the picture is transformed, if you remove an efficient heat source in a building 99% of the time the heating system will adjust and increase its output. The energy saving is thus minimal or even zero. I will refer everyone to the recent debate in New Scientist letters column for more information. Low energy light bulb are not all the are cracked up to be: Meanwhile Greenpeace, we are missing the bigger picture. what decides the overall energy use of a building is how much energy escapes plus the inefficiency of the present methods of energy production. There are ways of directly producing electrical and mechcanical energy from the sea which are being totally ignored by researchers and government. An area of 1sq Km with a tidal level change of just 2 metres can produce 10MJ of energy twice in every 24 hour period, why is this energy source with zero carbon footprint not being developed?

The mercury in CFL bulbs can and should be recycled - that way it's not being introduced into landfill and the water table. And burning fossil fuels such as coal also releases mercury (amongst other nasties) into the atmosphere, so unless your incandescent bulbs are powered by the wind or the sun, they're also polluting with heavy metals. But describing incandescents as "highly efficient" heat sources is, I'm sorry to say, utter poppycock. How many light bulbs do you think it would take to heat a room to the same level as your central heating? Not to mention the inefficiency inherent in centralised energy production that allows around 60 per cent of the energy generated to be lost as heat, plus another chunk in transmission from the power station to the point of use. Increased energy efficiency in the home is a must (and that includes light bulbs), but that goes hand in hand with much greater efficiency in energy production. By the way, if you're interested in tidal power, you should take a look at our new film, The Convenient Solution. Now that's what I call carbon neutral (well, almost). web editor gpuk

I have to disagree entirely with the assertion that the heat contributed to a room by standard light bulbs is not significant. I have personally used this method many times to raise the temperature of a cold hotel room which I have been staying in, when the central heating system has not been functioning at the time I required it. If on the other hand, I put on extra clothing instead of turning up the heating, it would therefore follow that this extra layer of clothing will have consumed energy during its manufacture, it would also follow that the purchase of the extra clothing will have added to the wealth of a manufacturer, retailer and distributor all of whom will avail themselves of consumer luxuries which will have used energy in their production. It would seem that when we are implementing an energy saving measure, the saving may be cancelled out by a myriad of other elements in the process which tend to go unnoticed by almost everyone. I have noticed that in our extremely “dumbed down” society most people are unaware of the scale of the industrial and manufacturing processes involved in producing the most basic of commodities. Entire mountains are being blown apart to gather the raw ore which is then processed in massive energy consuming factories to produce billets of steel, copper, aluminium, etc. These are then used in the production of the tools and machines that make the tools and machines that help to make more tools and machines that help to make end products such as television sets, fridges, washing machines, aeroplanes, cars etc. etc. A low energy light bulb has a more complex manufacturing process, it has considerably more glass that an standard light bulb, it contains a substantial amount of plastic, it has a circuit board with components as well as additional chemicals which a standard light bulb does not contain. I would suggest that the energy saved during its use will have actually been spent during the four main stages of its life; 1 pre-manufacturing of all the extra raw materials, 2 actual manufacturing, 3 profitable sales stages and 4 profitable recycling stage. Lets not forget this forth stage as if recycling plants do it for love not money, we really must remember the hypothetical “Trevor” who is the managing director of a highly lucrative recycling plant, he has two homes, one of which is a long haul flight away, he has two luxury cars, a wife with expensive taste, two daughters of which one got married recently in a eight thousand pound wedding dress with a twenty five thousand pound reception followed by three weeks in the Maldives. This consumption has a huge knock on effect, and we wont even start to imagine the consumption of the middle management and other employees of the recycling company. Most of us will have been taught the Law of Conservation of Energy during our school physics days, the law relates to the energy in any system and how it may take on various forms. The law of conservation of energy states that energy may neither be created nor destroyed. Therefore the sum of all the energies in the system is a constant. I would suggest that this law has implications far beyond the world of physics and may actually be just as relevant in the area of environmentalism. The idea that saving the environment can be successfully achieved via methods such as recycling (in its current form) and fitting energy saving light bulbs may be fundamentally flawed. The concept of carbon foot printing does in almost all cases not take into account the broader implications of an energy saving measure. We must remember that when Ms Jones came down from the tree at the Newbury Bypass and decided to have little Sophie and Beatress, an entire planets worth of industry started to provide a lifetimes worth of commodities for them. Oops, there goes another mountain of iron ore and a thousand barrels of oil. The problem isn't to do with the number of light bulbs but rather the number of consumers. In the current movement to “safe the planet” no one dares to mention the obvious, which is, the entire industrial base on our planet exists for one reason only, and that is to cater for the consumptive needs of billions of humans, it would therefore follow that a reduction in human numbers would halt and or diminish the level of industrialisation. Fewer people would mean fewer products with the inevitable closure of many types of industry. This is of course the catch 22, no government would ever actively want their population numbers to fall dramatically, this would mean loss of trillions of Euro, Pounds or Dollars generated through the many taxes which people pay during their existence, especially the purchase taxes on the billions of products which are consumed daily. This is why we are lead blindly down a road of recycling and energy saving, being told that it is effective and we should be proud of ourselves, oh what fools we humans can be.

To answer your first point, incandescent light bulbs do of course emit heat but it's still a very inefficient method of warming up a chilly room. Defra's own Market Transformation Programme stated that replacing that same wasted heat with heat generated by a gas-powered system would reduce related emissions by 60 per cent (quoted from Mark Prescott's BBC article - I can' track down the original, it's been mysteriously removed pending a review related to the energy white paper). To address the broader issues you raise, everything we do consumes resources so any form of artificial lighting (even candles) is going to create an impact somewhere. Unless we return to a hunter-gatherer culture, it's something we're going to have to get a handle on and deal with more responsibly. I think there's growing awareness that our actions have consequences that can be very complex to understand (just read the heated debate about over-consumption going on elsewhere on the site) but the sheer scale of it - probably a cause of globalisation and international trade - often scares people. It scares me. More people will consume more resources, but you're right - it will be a brave politician who tries to tackle that ultra-sensitive problem. web editor gpuk

About Jamie

I'm one of the editors of the website, and I do a lot of work on the Get Active section, as well as doing web stuff for the forests campaign. I've worked for Greenpeace since 2006 and, coming from a background as a freelance writer and web producer, it's been something of an education to be part of a direct action organisation. I'm from Cumbria originally but now I live in north London - I came to study here and somehow have never left.

My personal mumblings can be found @shrinkydinky.

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