According to the US Department of Energy (DOE), lighting accounts for about 22 percent of the electricity used in the United States.[1] This adds up to about $55 billion worth of electricity, roughly the equivalent to the output of 100 large power plants emitting 450 million tons of carbon dioxide and 3 million tons of smog-generating nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide.[2]

Shedding light on dirty illumination

Lighting-related energy costs and environmental pollution is largely due to the inefficiency of incandescent bulbs, which use 90 percent of their energy to give off heat and only 10 percent to give off light.[3] The heat given off by these lights results in the greater need for fans or air conditioners, thus increasing the electricity load even further.[4]

Additional energy drain comes from the inefficient use of lights. Overhead lighting as well as lights left on in unoccupied spaces consumes electricity unnecessarily, as does unnecessary over-illumination.

The consumption of electricity is responsible for increased air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, the average home is responsible for more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions of most cars, most of which comes from either coal or nuclear power plants required to generate the electricity.[5]

Coal power plants generate over 50 percent of the electricity used by Americans.[6] Coal, which is a type of fossil fuel, must be mined through a process that can hamper local ecosystems and harm wildlife.[7] But the environmental problems don't stop there. Burning coal is the single largest source of mercury emissions and emits 59 percent of total sulfur dioxide and 18 percent of nitrous oxide in the US each year.[6] It also is responsible for huge additions of CO2 into the atmosphere.

Nuclear power plants also have several serious environmental problems. Most use uranium (in a fission process) as a fuel source, which is a non-renewable resource, although fairly abundant around the world. Nuclear fission processes result in radioactive nuclear waste which is very difficult to dispose of safely. They also have the potential for disastrous accidents (such as Chernobyl) and can cause serious radiation poisoning for workers and those living in close proximity to the plants. Though many claim that nuclear energy is relatively cheap, they often fail to consider the full costs of building and maintaining nuclear facilities, as well as the enormous cost of disposing of nuclear waste.

Energy-saving lighting

New lighting technology has risen to provide greener illumination options for consumers and businesses. The rise in popularity of CFL bulbs and the praise heaped on LED technology may mean the end of incandescent lighting. And the potential environmental benefits are enormous - US electricity use from lighting could be halved if every household swapped its most often-used incandescent bulbs with CFLs.[8]

Controversy: CFL bulbs and mercury

Some criticize CFLs for their mercury content, claiming that because of this they are not a good environmental alternative. According to ENERGY STAR, CFLs are safe to use in the home. They contain a very small amount of mercury sealed within the glass tubing—an average of 5 milligrams (roughly equivalent to the tip of a ball-point pen). By comparison, traditional thermometers contain 500 milligrams of mercury—more than 100 times the amount in one CFL.[9] Dental fillings often content 60-200 time more mercury than a CFL, and watch batteries five times more.[10]

In response, some companies, such as Philips and Walmart, have vowed to make very low mercury content and mercury-free CFL bulbs. But environmentalists maintain that even with the small amount of mercury contained in CFLs, the environmental impact of these bulbs is far less than incandescents. This is especially true since CFLs avoid the mercury-laden coal-fired power plant emissions by working more efficiently. In fact, Noah Horowitz of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) explains that "the energy savings delivered through the use of CFLs will actually reduce more mercury pollution from coal-fired power plants than is added through manufacture of the bulbs."[11]


  • mercury: Found in many CFL bulbs, mercury can accumulate in tissue and may cause brain and kidney damage, especially in children.

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I have more of a quandry than a comment: How do you effectively approach the decision makers of your company to even find out what green standards they already have and to suggest potential changes? The office building I'm working in doesn't exactly have an "open-door policy" when it comes to the administration.


Most med-lg companies now have someone who is responsible for sustainability, or the environment or energy first see if this person exists. If they do, they should be able to provide this info. If not, ask around re who MIGHT have this info. Sending a caring, non-threatening email saying you'd love to talk with them about these issues, may actually be well received--give it a try.



I'd say show them the hard facts! We've got a TON of information on greening your office here:, including many resources that should make it a snap to show your building manager the financial benefits of going green.


yes many companies are "talking" green but not really doing much about it. I would probably start by finding out who the purchasing agent is that purchases supplies and ask them about energy efficient light bulbs or recycled paper etc...they are usually lower on the corporate totem pole so that should not be too intimidating. If your company is truly huge and you have no idea even where purchasing is done then maybe you could start by suggesting some smaller discretionary items to your local office managers. I went out and purchased a couple of recycling bins for our office. Hope this helps.

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