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Published on December 20th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


What If They Changed A Light Bulb And Nobody Cared?

December 20th, 2013 by  

A new survey of consumer attitudes toward household lighting is out, and the timing is perfect. On New Year’s Day the next phase of a federal law will ban the manufacture and import of 40 and 60 watt light bulbs that don’t meet new energy efficiency standards. So, if you’re a big fan of cheap, inefficient light bulbs, they are going to be harder to find.

The new survey, the SYLVANIA Socket Survey, is the sixth in an annual series from lighting giant OSRAM SYLVANIA. It provides a big, fat clue as to why the deadline is being met with a cone of silence.

See, we figured that the new light bulb deadline would elicit howls of protest from our favorite right-wing (okay, so Republican) legislators and pundits. That’s what happened when the first two phases took effect, this year and in 2012, covering 100-watt and 75-watt bulbs.

phase 3 of light bulb phase out takes effect jan 1 2014

Light bulbs by Matt Hutchinson.

Instead, we’re still waiting for the other shoe to drop. As in, cricket chirps.

The SYLVANIA Socket Survey

It could be that everybody is waiting under the table until the holiday dust settles, and then they’ll spring out and surprise us. After all, 2014 is an election year.

However, the SYLVANIA Socket Survey shows why, even if the anti-efficiency set drops the Marcel Marceau pose in 2014, nobody will care.

That’s because, nobody cares.

To be more accurate, a clear majority of people are not paying attention, and if they are, most of them are planning to switch to more efficient new lighting.

Specifically, almost 60 percent of American consumers are not even aware that it will be harder to get conventional 40 and 60-watt incandescent bulbs after January 1.

The survey also found that 65 percent of American consumers plan to make the switch, leaving just 30 percent who say they’ll stick with the old, inefficient ones. That’s a pretty sizable minority but that’s what they’re saying now. They might say something else as the price of new lighting technology down and aesthetic appeal goes up, especially when their annoying neighbors start bragging about the lifecycle savings.

Other than that, the survey contains few surprises. For example, when asked what they look for in a light bulb, people rate energy efficiency and lifespan just a little behind brightness:

Respondents say that brightness (92%), followed by lifespan (87%) and then energy usage (82%) and price (82%) are of the highest importance when choosing which bulb to buy.

Light Bulb Ban: Cue The Outrage!

Actually, for now we’re sticking with our hiding-under-the-table theory. When you break the Socket Survey down by age, the people who care the least are also less likely to vote Republican:

Millennials tend to be less aware of the phase-out. Only 38 percent of millennials know about the phase-out in general, while 68 percent of those aged 35-54 and 71 percent of those over the age of 55 are aware of the legislation.

Now combine the breakdown by age with the short lifespan of conventional incandescent bulbs, and you have to wonder why Republican legislators would push this light bulb thing to begin with.

To be blunt about it, getting up on a chair or a ladder to change a light bulb is not exactly the safest way to spend your free time as you get older, and by encouraging older voters to engage in this activity more frequently, you are basically killing off your constituency.

Okay, so that’s not our problem, but just sayin’.

Anyways, it’s far too late for Republican legislators to repeal the phase-out law (which dates back to the Bush Administration, btw), and they can’t yell too loudly without annoying their donors in the lighting industry, but that won’t stop them from riling up the base with at least a smattering of peeps and squawks as election season heats up.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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