Sunday, 29 March 2009

1. The Global Anti-Lightbulb Campaign

As CFLs did not exactly fly off the shelf when first introduced, due to high price, poor light quality and other drawbacks, it appears that the lighting industry found more drastic measures necessary to make people buy the new FL lamp, besides working on improving the product. In the campaign to force an unappealing and expensive product on unwilling custumers, a very well thought-out campaign was launched where nothing was left to chance:

1. First give the compact fluorescent lamp a more appealing name, like "Energy Saver" (or equivalent in other languages) since most people associate fluorescent lamps with dull office light which may be OK at work but hardly at home.

2. Create some great-sounding PR slogans, like "gives 5 times more light", "saves 80% energy", "saves hundreds of dollars/pounds/etc per year" and "lasts 10 times longer", based on theoretical figures for the best lamps on the market. Nevermind that this is not true for most CFLs in real life situations, just repeat it in brochures and PR-articles until it becomes a 'fact'.

3. Then make sure to target the main competition, that pesky incandescent bulb which consumers insist on preferring due to its low price and nice light, and blame it for everything you can think of, complete with derogatory pictures of dark sad bulbs beside pictures of bright happy CFLs.

4. Use the growing public environmental concern and convince leading environmental organisations and authorities of the "environmental benefits" of CFLs, based on inflated figures and downplayed mercury impact, and you'll have reliable allies who would otherwise surely complain about mercury content (if/when eventually informed of it) but who will now instead do part of your marketing for free. Finger-point the incandescent bulb as the "bad guy" and let them beat up the competitor for you. Klaus Stanjek explains how the campaign was carried out in Germany:
"It was [vital] that this targeted and expensive campaign also reached customers whose ecological conscience motivated them to try and save energy. Through a clever information strategy Osram and other lamp manufacturers convinced many newspapers and magazines to print their argumentation, and they gained the support of Stiftung Warentest [equivalent to “Which?”], “Globus” (a TV programme on environmental issues), the German Federal Environmental Agency, and even critical organisations such as the B.U.N.D. (German Association for the Preservation of the Environment and Nature). By now the ministries even prompt their admistrative offices to install “energy saving lamps”. These fluorescent lamps were not even assessed by others than the manufacturers themselves."

5. Convince energy agencies and utilities that switching to CFLs will save more energy than just about any other measure conceivable, and you'll have a free, tax-paid marketing channel working steadily to sell your product. Here is one example of how Danish utilities, by targeted campaigns between 1990 and 1997, managed to increase CFL use dramatically with its detailed plan to overcome consumer resistance: Transforming the CFL Market by Consumer Campaigns

6. Encourage other national authorities, organisations and large companies to jump on the band wagon with various campaigns. In the Market Transformation Strategy paper by Kalle Hashmi, current Executive Officer of Technology & Market Unit at the Swedish Energy Agency (STEM), gives a candid description of how it was done in Sweden (although he was not involved himself at that time):

"The first campaign was launched by NUTEK in cooperation with IKEA in 1993, when IKEA celebrated its 50th anniversary. IKEA through federal government subsidy donated a CFL to each of its “IKEA Family” members. NUTEK prepared a small information leaflet containing information about energy efficiency (lumen/watt) and lamp life (hours) of CFLs, for distribution with each lamp. However, this information leaflet had no relevance for the actual lamps distributed by IKEA i.e. there was no established or known relationship between how the quality of lamps distributed by IKEA to the households corresponded with the performance figures mentioned in the leaflet. In retrospect it may be said that the CFLs distributed by IKEA were of extremely poor quality. There were, however, some advantages gained through this campaign i.e. that IKEA got seriously involved in the market for CFLs, not only in Sweden but globally."

The paper admits that during the 1990s:
STEM engaged in ill conceived, inconsistent and ad-hoc promotions. STEM did not take into account the consumer perspective but rather concentrated exclusively on energy efficiency and technical issues. STEM relied indiscriminately on the information provided by the vendors. STEM was very passive about dealing with CFL technology failures that affected main benefit claims. STEM did not study, did not know or admit technology limitations. STEM did not demand or work to establish minimum performance requirements. STEM never questioned why long life claims were not backed by a guarantee."

The UK has also had a strong Market Transformation Programme.

A couple of years ago the European Commission also made a detailed summary of the various national - often tax-paid - campaigns in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, UK; Spain, Italy, Lavtia, Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic, complete with suggestions on how to keep increasing CFL sales in all of Europe: Residential Lighting Consumption and Saving Potential in the Enlarged EU

7. Besides regular TV & magazine ads, spread PR-brochures and PR-articles through every possible channel, in order to set a standard where no light-related article is published without mentioning the compulsory PR-slogans and anti-lightbulb-arguments at least once - even if the article has something negative to say about CFLs!

8. Use Internet websites and blogs to further your cause and let other well-meaning idealists do the job for you, thinking they're helping to save the planet.

9. Always be active and pro-active and leave nothing to chance. As soon as some new embarrassing fact about CFLs is discovered and pointed out in media, issue "FAQs" and "Myth-Fact" lists that "debunk" or downplay anything unfavourable about CFLs, and make sure they are spread through as many channels as possible, including the flood of unsuspecting green websites and blogs who usually dutifully repeat these carefully constructed PR-arguments more or less verbatim without ever questioning the source. Keep ignoring and ridiculing every attempt to offer a different perspective.

10. If possible, also make sure to produce at least one lamp model which does not have the discovered limitation, e.g. that is dimmable, can be used at high or low tempeatures, looks like a bulb, fits in recessed luminaires etc., so that customers, journalists, lighting designers, light researchers and others who notice drawbacks with the CFL that the lightbulb doesn't have, can be silenced with the argument that such shortcomings "are a thing of the past". Nevermind if the improved CFL costs several times as much, is hard to find and may have lower efficacy or other trade-off effects, or that most CFLs still have more limitations than benefits.

11. Finally, if all this still doesn't help, persuade EU legislators and world leaders everywhere to ban the competitor in the name of "saving the environment" and push the CFL for domestic use above all other alternatives. Starting with the most popular frosted incandescent and halogen bulbs so that everyone who wants or needs a frosted bulb will be forcred to buy a CFL instead!

"Philips calls for action to replace incandescent bulbs with energy saving lamps"
"OSRAM welcomes the European Union directive to phase out incandescent lamps" and European Lamp Companies Federation proudly announces that "ELC members participate in a number of EU energy saving initiatives."

Read more about why this ban (or "phasing-out" as they call it) is a very ill-concieved idea, and what would be a more effective approach to save both money and the environment: New Electric Politics

Update 4 Aug: Some confirming highlights from the 2006 updated detailed list of marketing strategy and "consumer education" bullet points by the the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy:
Compact Fluorescent Lighting in America: Lessons Learned on the Way to Market

• Identify and focus first on niche markets where the benefits of the new technology make sense.
• Focus product marketing on attribute that is most important to consumers (e.g., energy savings and long life for CFLs).
• Be specific about benefits. How long do they last? How much do they save?
• Back up long-life claims with guarantees.
• Shift consumer focus from product price to product value. Build a message of value (costs more/worth more).
• Focus message where the technology can meet/exceed expectations.
• In marketing literature show comparisons of savings to the standard technology, e.g., 1 CFL = 10 incandescents.
• Use mass media, both paid (TV, radio, newspaper, and magazine ads) and unpaid (host press events, tie news releases to current events).
• Promote products through several different mediums to reinforce familiarity.
• Work toward consistent, industry-wide terminology. Identify and avoid terms with negative connotations.

• Target training programs/awareness campaigns to market channels such as builders, designers, and retailers.
Join forces with others in national energy-efficiency programs (e.g., ENERGY STAR).
• Use utility or manufacturer field representatives as link between manufacturers and retailers; they can educate and train retailers, set up displays, distribute promotions, and iron out problems.
• Coordinate incentive programs; avoid overlapping, inconsistent promotions.
• Require action on part of consumer, in give-away programs, for higher installation and retention rates, and greater consumer awareness, e.g., make customers mail in a request card to get the free bulb, don’t just hand them out door-to-door to customers who may not want them.
• Delay program launch rather than introduce inferior products; first impressions are long lasting.
• Design multi-year programs around the lighting season (Sept to April) not the calendar year.

• Strive to make new lighting technologies available through market channels where products are typically purchased (e.g., lighting purchases are often made at grocery stores).
• Conduct in-store product demonstrations.
• Let consumers see new technology - use lit in-store displays and see-through packaging.
• Invest in visible, attractive point-of-purchase displays and signage.
• Arrange shelf displays by lighting application rather than manufacturer and identify good/better/best options that correlate to longer product life and greater energy efficiency.
• Provide retailers with many education tools including brochures, posters, demonstrations, and wall displays.
• Support retailer efforts with utility bill stuffers and product demonstrations at local fairs, home shows, and energy shows.
• Encourage and applaud enthusiastic and ongoing retailer participation.

[My emphases, and points regrouped for clarity, with some irrelevant or repetitive points omitted]


Even though I've followed this anti-lightbulb campaign since its conception in the late 1980s and saw this coming, I'm still astonished that it was this easy to get an almost global ban in such a relatively short time when it often takes several decades to get a ban on things that are proven to be hazardous to public health, the environment, or both.

But why would the lighting industry want the light bulb banned; after all, they make incandescent bulbs too, so what difference does it make to them if customers buy one of their lamps or the other? Well, I recently got the answer to that question from a product manager at Philips Lighting. It was so simple I should have guessed it myself...

Prices on incandescent lamps are now so low that leading producers no longer make a profit on them!

OSRAM appears to confirm this: "For many years, the manufacture and sale of incandescent lamps have become less and less important for their business."

Whereas CFLs are an estimated 80 billion dollar business. And the LED market is expected to reach $14 billion by 2013.

And companies are, after all, in business to make a profit.

As simple as that?


Update Sept 2: Here Philips admits to 'helping' U.S. Congress set the new lighting standards:
"Companies such as Amsterdam-based Royal Philips Electronics NV, the world's largest light-bulb maker, and GE, seeing the determination by Democrats to act on energy legislation, helped Congress develop the lighting standards that will end the sale of incandescent light bulbs within a decade.

Randall Moorhead, vice president of government affairs at Philips Electronics North America, said that after the 2006 elections, in which Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress, his company knew it needed to act.

'We knew that 12 years of pent-up demand by Democrats to do the things they wanted to do was going to be released in a number of ways and one of those ways was in energy efficiency,'' said Moorhead.

Ungar called the light bulb standard 'the single most important efficiency standard in the history of the program.' ''

Bloomberg: Light Bulbs, Gas Changing as U.S. Energy Bill Passes

Update Dec 2: More of Philips' bragging in the press:

"The head of Philips Electronics NV said his company's lighting business stands to gain from government spending on energy efficiency in the U.S. and abroad.
"Philips said it won a $6 million contract with the U.S. General Services Administration to retrofit two federal buildings in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., with energy efficient lighting. The Dutch company said $71 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package is reserved for green initiatives and another $20 billion for green-tax ..."
Philips CEO Sees Gain From Efficiency Push

See also my recent post: Global Ban Craze


  1. Even if I work in agriculture, my latest research in LCA have worn me that new technologies have a dark side... I knew this from a long time ago, but never have time to check the bulb stuff. Your blog is just great! Thousands of references and proofs... the problem is that people never behave rationally, just follow emotions inspired by mass media and their friends/family thoughts...
    Thanks for your time!

  2. This is the finest article I have found on this subject so far. Here in Germany some media (mostly TV shows specialized in science and service) are more critical of the light bulb ban, but some big magazines and newspapers are full of this ridiculous CFL propaganda.

    The general public just knows from experience and common sense that these things produce ugly, unhealthy light, are way too expensive and come with environmental problems attached that the traditional bulbs don't have.

    But of course the people in power don't care.

    I'm very disappointed with Greenpeace for their blind, sheepish support of the light bulb ban.
    To me it makes clear that they care about a healthy planet but not about healthy people. So the consequence would be that for Greenpeace an ideal world has to be one with no people at all.

    There's this totalitarian, anti-human element I generally despise in organizations like PETA - and now I see that Greenpeace isn't any better.
    Are these people driven into activism by a lurking self-hatred that expands into a hatred towards all human beings and leads to an almost weird identification with plants and animals?

    Another odd thing is that Pro-incandescent light bulb information is much harder to find on the net than the usual Pro-Ban Propaganda.
    The reason why this is such an issue for so many people is the fact that it tells something significant about the world we live in - and that little something is not pretty.

    Thanks for your great article, - A

  3. Thanks. It is no coincidence that the information on incandescent lamps is virtually non-existent, while the net overflows with CFL propaganda blogs and articles.

    As for Greenpeace, I tried contacting them personally but the spokesperson was like a robot spitting out pre-programmed replies, refusing to listen to any facts and figures, saying that it doesn't matter what I say as they have already made up their mind, and practically hanging up in my ear when I tried to get a word in edgewise.

    I was quite shocked afterwards, I'd been sure they would be able to see reason when presented to them, but nope... :(

  4. This is a great post. I just had one of the ‘Doh!’ moments and ran back to correct my own site before publishing my comment. You see my own comment form did not match what I’m about to advice. I get less comment than you, so never noticed any problem. I’ve changed it now anyway so here goes.

    study abroad