The compact fluorescent light bulb — or CFL, as it's known to industry insiders — is a product that's both cost-effective and eco-friendly. That makes it a win-win for consumers, and one of the more popular “green” housewares products on the market right now.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, a CFL uses 75% less energy than a conventional bulb, and can save consumers $30 on electricity bills over the course of its lifetime. This efficiency has led to a sales boom of late. Wal-Mart announced in 2006 a campaign to sell 100 million CFLs by the end of 2007, and ended up almost doubling that goal by selling 193 million of the bulbs.
And analysts as well as retailers say that, unlike many other green housewares products, CFLs are poised to perform well in the current recession.
“What consumers are really looking the most at right now are energy savings,” said A.J. Riedel, president of the Riedel Marketing Group, Phoenix. “Within a month or two of using the compact fluorescent bulbs, they'll see a drop in their electric bill.”
As good for business as all of this is, the CFL is not quite the slam-dunk that retailers might like it to be. The bulbs typically cost several times as much as a conventional option. Also, with a life span of up to eight years, the more CFLs people use, the fewer light bulbs they'll be buying overall.
There's also the question of proper disposal, since CFLs contain trace quantities of mercury. To solve this, retailers like the Home Depot have started placing CFL recycling bins outside stores.
At Nugget Market, Woodland, Calif., housewares category manager R.J. Cushing has seen an uptick in sales of CFLs. The key to getting them into customers' carts, he said, is to provide helpful one-on-one service.
“If someone picks up one of these light bulbs, and they're not sure about it, we have someone who can explain to them how it works and how much longer it lasts than other options,” said Cushing.