How to convince people to buy fluorescent bulbs

It seems like such an easy way to cut energy usage: Buy fluorescent bulbs instead of incandescents. But many people refuse to switch, even though doing so would save them money in the long run. Now researchers have found that simply labelling the bulbs with the corresponding annual cost of electricity might help nudge some consumers toward the more energy-efficient option.

According to a 2009 report, only about one-tenth of the bulbs used in U.S. homes are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). Most people are aware of alternatives to incandescents, so ignorance isn’t the problem. “[T]here may be other barriers that keep consumers from adopting CFLs,” the authors note in Ecological Economics. For example, maybe people just don’t consider energy-related costs very important compared to other types of expenses. And one recent study found that while CFLs are more efficient, they also contain more toxic metals.

The researchers surveyed 168 people about their lightbulb preferences. The participants were given a choice between incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, along with information about the bulb’s price, power, lifetime, light output, and color. Half of the group also received information about the total electricity cost per year if that lightbulb was used. For example, the person might be presented with a more expensive, long-lasting CFL with an annual cost of $3.60 versus a cheaper, shorter-lived incandescent with an annual cost of $10.

The participants weren’t blind to the benefits of CFLs; they were willing to pay an average of $2.63 more for fluorescents than incandescents. But people who also saw the annual cost information were even more inclined to pay a premium for fluorescents. Compared to those who didn’t see the annual cost, they were willing to pay $0.14 more per extra 1,000 hours of lifetime. The added information may make consumers “pay more attention to the implications of lifetime and power on future savings,” the authors write. Roberta Kwok | 26 November 2013

Source: Min, J. et al. 2013. Labeling energy cost on light bulbs lowers implicit discount rates. Ecological Economics doi: 10.1016/j.ecolecon.2013.10.015.

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