By Donella Meadows
–October 8, 1987–
A year ago I wrote in a column that if every light bulb in the United States were replaced with the most energy-efficient equivalent now available, we could save enough electricity to shut down half the nuclear power plants in the nation. I should have anticipated all the letters that came in, asking where to get those electricity-saving light bulbs. I didn’t know the answer then, but I do now.
The statistic I had quoted came from the Electric Power Research Institute. I had seen the bulbs — energy analyst Amory Lovins travels around with a suitcase full of them, gleefully demonstrating how a 9-watt floodlight can give the same amount of illumination as a 100-watt one. But I didn’t know how much the bulbs cost or where to get them.
I also didn’t know where to get the showerheads my friend Bill Durrell kept talking about, the ones that give you a good forceful shower with 70% less water than a normal head and that save up to 20% on hot water costs.
I could have told you where to get stationery made from recycled paper, or safe pesticides for houseplants, or a solar recharger for your car battery. But I can’t begin to keep up with all the ingenious products that are appearing as the Green Movement finds the Free Market.
Two weeks ago Tina Hobson solved that problem for me by handing me a just-off-the-press copy of the “Renew America Catalog”. The catalog has been compiled by the Fund for Renewable Energy and the Environment (FREE), a non-profit educational organization. Tina is FREE’s director. She got tired of people asking her where to get efficient light bulbs, so she set up a mail-order service to provide the bulbs and other products of interest to people who want to live lightly on the earth.
The catalog shows light bulbs in many sizes and shape. They cost as much as $15 each, but a single one lasts as long as 9 regular bulbs and saves about $50 worth of electricity over its lifetime.
You’ll also find such items as non-toxic biodegradable household cleaning agents, solar-rechargeable D-sized batteries, a solar-powered electric fence, a drip-irrigation system made from recycled tires, and those water-saving showerheads. There are how-to books and solar energy posters and educational toys and even environmental videos (“Design with the Sun”, “Getting the Most From Your Garden” and other hot favorites).
Since this is a catalog put out by an educational organization, it has useful information tucked into odd corners. In case you’ve always wanted to support an environmental organization but could never tell the Sierra Club from Greenpeace, there’s a list of 33 groups, with a brief description of each and a postcard to send in for more information. If you wonder how to invest your money without supporting the world’s biggest polluters, there’s a list of socially-responsible investment funds. Across the bottom of each page are nuggets from FREE’s annual “State of the States” environmental report, such as, “Only nine states have passed bottle bill legislation” and “Eight states have formulated building codes to improve energy efficiency”.
The catalog also tells you:
– how to find out which appliances now on the market save the most energy, – how to get a home energy audit, – toll-free hotline numbers you can call to ask questions about renewable energy sources (1-800-428-2525 takes you to the National Center for Appropriate Technology), – how to join ECONET, the computer network that links people with an interest in the environment and provides access to legislative alerts and the latest environmental news.
At the beginning of the catalog Denis Hayes, the founder of FREE, writes, “The most powerful force for change in our era has consisted of people who simply choose to behave differently. Blacks who refused to sit in the back of the bus. Women who refused to be content with dead end jobs. Today, responsible investing and ethical consumerism hold a promise of reshaping the world. If millions of people choose to spend their money differently, they can reduce fuel use by more than 80 percent, curtail air and water pollution, preserve the ozone layer, and save vital natural resources for future generations.”
Denis also mentions a recent environmental conference in which 200 people were asked who knew where to buy energy efficient light bulbs. Only two hands went up.
Now I know, and you do too.
Copyright Sustainability Institute 1987