OHIO: How many light bulbs does it take?

Diocese aims to reduce ‘carbon footprint’ by replacing incandescent bulbs with CFLs
August 15, 2008

Sixty of 95 congregations have exchanged their incandescent light bulbs for compact fluorescents (CFLs) so far this summer in the Diocese of Ohio’s “How Many Light Bulbs Does it Take to Change an Episcopalian?” campaign to reduce its carbon footprint.

“That’s 5,431 bulbs,” reports intern Andy Barnett. He estimates that when the bulb exchange is completed it will reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 3,640,000 pounds and mercury emissions by more than 41,000 milligrams over the next nine years. It will also bring savings of more than $298,700.

Barnett, a recent graduate of Oberlin College, has been contacting churches, collecting orders for CFLs, and working with volunteers to deliver bulbs and recycling stations to churches.

Bishop Mark Hollingsworth, Jr. of the Diocese of Ohio challenged all the Episcopal congregations in northern Ohio to replace as many incandescent bulbs as possible with
CFLs. He also invited every parishioner in his diocese to try CFLs in the five most-used light fixtures in their homes.

Hollingsworth said, “The church has an opportunity to set the bar, and has a moral responsibility to address these critical issues of global warming and environmental sustainability.”

Barnett notes that congregations have been eager to participate. The biggest challenge has been in the organizing effort of finding the right contact person in each one, particularly the smaller rural congregations.

Questions about mercury in CFLs led Barnett to do some research. He learned that replacing conventional light bulbs with CFLs will actually reduce mercury pollution.

“Because 90% of Ohio's electricity comes from mercury-emitting coal plants, and because CFLs use 75% less electricity, we use less electricity and burn less coal when we use CFLs,” he said. “That's very good news for the climate, and it means these bulbs contribute to a net reduction of mercury in the biosphere, even if they were to be improperly disposed of in landfills.”

Congregations are being urged to serve as recycling centers for CFLs in their community, and equipped with recycling boxes and instructions for proper disposal of the spent bulbs.

“Our project can really be seen as part of an effort to revitalize the region for energy efficiency and renewables,” notes Barnett. The largest manufacturer of CFLs, Technical Consumer Products (TCP), is in Aurora, Ohio. “They make a million CFLs a day. It’s a plus that we are working with a local business.”

A next step for the Diocese of Ohio will be helping each congregation to conduct a thorough energy audit. The Diocese’s Commission on Global and Domestic Mission sees addressing climate change as an important part of its focus on the Millennium Development Goals, especially MDG #7, “ensure environmental sustainability.”

“The church has a crucial role to play in advocating for sound policy, especially in the search for alternative fuels and energy efficiency,” says Barnett, who begins a joint degree program at Yale Divinity and School of Forestry this fall.

“Reverence and awe are a huge part of what the church can do in its advocacy,” he continues. “I’ve noticed that we are good at helping people fall in love with things. We could do better at helping people fall in love with the planet.”