It’s curious to watch how the power of buzzword marketing pulls people into a concept. With our rush to “save the environment”, are we overlooking a few details that, in the end, cause more harm than good at the most local level? The revenge of unintended consequences, so to speak.
Engineer and author Henry Petrosky chronicles some of man’s efforts to go bigger and better in "To Engineer is Human", and while he mostly deals with structural issues, the same paradigm applies when you start to look at the plight of the CFL (compact flourescent light) bulbs. As we flock to the store to do our part to save the world, how many of these savy consumers realize the mercury content of these bulbs? Each package is labeled with the mercury symbol (Hg)and directs consumers to dispose in accordance with local regulations. Have you thrown one in the garbage, or do you recycle them as hazardous waste? I don’t see many of them when I go to the household cleaning days at Playland. Did you ever have one break? Did you follow the EPA guidelines for proper cleanup of a broken CFL, or are you poisoning your children with the mercury contamination in your home?
Much is being written as research begins to uncover the cost/benefit aspects of mercury laden products in the home. In an article titled "The Dark Side of CFLs" we begin to see the pushback to all the hubub over CFLs. With more efficient LED technology lighting and high efficiency incandescent lighting on the horizon, it serves the consumer treadmill well to perpetuate the myths of CFL lighting. Why, just about the time the market is saturated with CFLs, we’ll be sold on the next big thing in lighting. So why the rush to spread the mercury around? All you have to do is follow the money to see how the lobbying for CFL use has affected the mindset of the “green consciousness” of America. Considerably more energy to manufacture (China’s energy not ours, so I guess that’s a plus) millions of mercury laden bulbs in the landfills, questionable quality control standards resulting in early replacement, all makes you wonder if our efforts are misplaced. Another article in the New York Times poses the question do they save energy if they don’t work?. There are plenty of “environmental engineers” espousing the benefits of CFL’s but it’s a lot like doctors, or any other proffessional. Did they graduate first out of 450 or were they at the bottom of their class? In the same vain, I’ve spoken to architects who use LEEDS certification as nothing more than a marketing tool to increase their margins. In fact, many LEED certified buildings actually use more energy than buildings constructed to plain old Energy Star compliance standards. This is a government certified, nationally reckognized standard. Not like the privately funded, for profit, politically motivated organization like ICLEI or the RPA who are currently in place to call the shots for New Rochelle. Just look at the passion expressed by the comments of the citizens supporting the latest GreeNR plan. To think we need outside help to develop what’s best for our city is preposterous to say the least. Perhaps a little more scrutiny and dialogue is in order before adopting such a broad based initiative.
We would all like to improve our quality of life while reducing our impact to the planet, but having said that, we need to consider the consequences of our actions in our rush to hop on the bandwagon.