CFLs LED the Way Until LEDs Came to Light

The benefits of sustainable lighting appear to be relative. There has been an evolution of lighting from the incandescent bulb to the compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb, and now to the light emitting diode (LED) bulbs. Also, the European Union (EU) Ecodesign Directive and U.S. Energy Independence and Security Act have both lead the market and consumers to energy saving technologies which reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But it wasn’t until recently that I appreciated the realities of sustainable LED bulbs. Of course, we have all heard about the energy savings that CFLs and LEDs technologies have over incandescent bulbs, and this translates into economic savings for consumers over the lifespan of the bulb.

Yet some of the arguments for not buying incandescent bulbs might also redirect consumers away from CFLs, as compared to buying LEDs. For example, the focus of some articles has been whether consumers save money in the short-term or over the long-term. CFLs are less expensive than LEDs in upfront purchase costs. This article also notes that LEDs should be used in locations which are difficult-to-reach because they last about 3 times longer than a CFL, but the article also notes that CFLs are 3 times less expensive in initial upfront costs. However, the upfront-cost argument can just as easily be used to direct consumers to continue to buy the significantly less expensive incandescent bulbs, and perhaps this is why some consumers have stocked up on incandescent bulbs before these bulbs are no longer available on the market.

Yet in other articles, the focus does break down into energy efficiency/costs, environmental impact, and light output. As for energy efficiency/costs. LEDs are noted as using less power per lumen and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and lower electric bills. However, some articles indicate that CFLs and LEDs are comparable in power consumption. As for environmental impact, this chart notes that LEDs have about 10% of carbon dioxide emissions that incandescent do and less than 50% of that of CFLs. This article also focuses on toxicity and RoHS compliance based on the fact the CFLs carry mercury, yet neither LEDs nor incandescent bulbs have mercury. The popular media also question the quality and longevity of CFLs.

However, when turning to the peer-reviewed research literature, there continue to be sustainability issues with even the LED bulb. Lim et al. (2013) acknowledge that CFLs and LEDs are more energy-efficient than incandescent bulbs, but they also note that these lighting technologies require more metal-containing components. And perhaps the most significant observation is that “there is uncertainty about the potential environmental impacts of these components and whether special provisions must be made for their disposal at the end of useful life.” (Lim, Kang, Ogunseitan, & Schoenung, Potential environmental impacts from the metals in incandescent, compact fluorescent lamp (CFL), and light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs, Environ. Sci. Technol., 2013, 47 (2), pp. 1040–1047). Lim et al. found that “both CFL and LED bulbs are categorized as hazardous” due to excessive levels of metals, (e.g., lead, copper, zinc), while the incandescent bulb is not hazardous, so the “CFLs and LEDs have higher resource depletion and toxicity potentials than the incandescent bulb due primarily to their high aluminum, copper, gold, lead, silver, and zinc.” They concluded that “conservation and sustainability policies should focus on the development of technologies that reduce the content of hazardous and rare metals in lighting products without compromising their performance and useful lifespan.”

Yet even with these findings, choosing a sustainable lighting alternative is a relative choice. LEDs are dimmable and do not take time to become fully bright, which is a significant advantage for consumers with aging eyes. However, the most significant factor that made me change almost all my residential lighting to the more expensive LED lighting was my concern about toxic metals.

In the attached picture, there is a CFL bulb that was used for less than 1 year in my home. Looking closely, I noticed that mercury appeared to have been leaching out of the bulb at various points. This astounded me and made me want to go fully LED. Also, this past year, a U.S. company introduced more affordable LED bulbs in the 75 and 100 watt-equivalent range which provided brightness at either the 2700K (soft white) or 5000K (daylight) ranges, which was helpful for my aging eyes. These were recently being carried by the local hardware store at a more reasonable price. When I say “more affordable”, this is a relative term as LED bulbs are still considerably more expensive than CFLs and incandescent bulbs. At this time, I have moved most all my home lighting (over 50 bulbs) to the improved LED bulbs because of this “little” mercury issue, but having learned LED bulbs also have issues, I await the next technology which will lead to a more sustainable lighting alternative which show more mettle and less metal issues.CFL Bulb with Diffused Merc Spots 2014-05-04 007

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Enough For All Forever – The Sustainability Lullaby – March 2014

Sunset Copyright 2008 JP Oh-Kaye 20081004

Enough For All Forever-A Sustainability Lullaby March 2014
(To hear an acoustic performances of the song, the link immediately above is a powerpoint presentation with an embedded mp3 music/sound file recording. To hear the song, download the powerpoint presentation to your desktop, then start to run/play the powerpoint presentation and the music should begin (slide 2 also has a copy of the lyrics).
Unfortunately, for some reason the powerpoint may or may not play directly from online, so it appears that the best way to listen to it may be to just download the powerpoint to your desktop and run the powerpoint in presentation mode from there. If you can’t hear it, please post a comment and I’d be happy to email you the mp3 file itself. I had challenges trying to post the mp3 by itself to this blog, but the powerpoint posting was very simple. Sorry for any inconvenience, but thanks for your interest. Best wishes!)

Would a possible step to help work towards a more sustainable tomorrow be to start educating children and others about the importance of sustainability from early on, such as through a sustainability lullaby song which describes the topic/issues? Please share.

Enough for All Forever (The Sustainability Lullaby)
(Can be sung to the tune of “An Irish Lullaby”)

Enough for all forever
Enough for you and me
Enough for everyone in need
For all eternity

Enough for all forever
A vision we must teach
And walk the walk together
Until it has been reached

Enough for all forever
The focus can’t be lost
Priorities of social needs
And world boundaries we won’t cross
Enough for all forever
The answer lies with us
Together we can make it
To a space that’s safe and just

Enough for all forever
The challenge lies ahead
For each of us to lead a change
For the balance to be met
Enough for all forever
Each playing a key role
With hearts and minds together
All working towards the whole

Enough for all forever
A vision we must teach
And walk the walk together
Until it has been reached

Enough for all forever
Enough for you and me
Enough for everyone in need
For all eternity

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“Marks It Down Spencer” OR “Pret a Donate”: Which has a more sustainable practice?

When I returned to London, I noticed how businesses applied expiration dating practices to food products and wondered whether this was for sustainability, marketing, health, safety, or perhaps other reasons. Whilst there are certainly many tinned or dry goods which are packaged and have an expiry date on them, I have used products beyond the expiry date on pasta and coffees with no complaints. For nonfoods, I have noticed expiry dates on battery packages, yet I have also continued to use the batteries beyond these dates with no ill effects. So perhaps it is for increasing sales.

However, it was on a Saturday night that I noticed something slightly different. It was after 20:00pm. I had realized that I hadn’t had dinner yet, and I wasn’t going to a restaurant or pub. Instead, I decided to pick up something quick from a local Marks & Spencer Food Hall. As I was walking through the aisles, I was surprised when I saw a crowd. At first, I thought it must have been an incognito film star, pop singer, or some other celebrity who had just been discovered or the start of a flash mob (which I was ready to join), but it was only a woman dressed in one of the various M&S black and green outfits. Yet she was drawing such a huge crowd with her pricing tool and yellow stickers! She was actively marking down sandwiches, salads, and other prepared foods before they reached their expiry date. So how could I pass up a sandwich that was marked down from 3.50 to only 45p? I noticed the same practice at the local Sainsbury and Tesco later that week. This seemed like a great way to minimise food waste and provide reasonably priced food to people.

I later went to Pret A Manger which started as a small shop in 1984 in Hampstead, but was sold and expanded until it is now international. At Pret, I noticed quite a different approach. In fact, Pret expressly noted that they did not mark down sandwiches at the end of the day. How could this be for a company that is so dedicated to handmade natural food and sustainability ( I thought to myself that this was such a waste of edible foods that could have gone to the hungry. Then as part of their Sustainability Strategy, I later learned that they say “We’re committed to minimising waste at all stages of the supply chain, food production and sending zero waste to landfill from our shops.” Interestingly, they “operates a fleet of LPG vans that deliver over 12,000 fresh meals to numerous shelters for the homeless in London every week. Many charities across the UK collect directly from our shops at the end of each day too.” Pret further notes that it “donates around 2.5 million products to UK homeless charities every year, with the added bonus of ensuring our fresh natural food goes to the homeless at the end of the day and not to landfill. In fact, this prevents up to 250 tonnes of food from ending up in landfill.” (see at So instead of marking down sandiwches at the end of the day to make a sale, they appear to be spending monies to getting these “fresh” foods to people who need it.

I will confess that Pret’s comment about throwing away edible foods in a landfill as “being bad for the environment” has me torn between whether they should be more focused on feeding the hungry or avoiding a landfill. In particular, they say “Our goal is to avoid landfill at all costs; we know it’s bad for the environment, that they’re filling up fast and that they’re becoming increasingly expensive. Getting our recycling scheme bedded in is essential. We’ve rolled out front- and back-of-house recycling and we’ve been composting our organic waste for a number of years now.” If they can find a better balance in how they phrase these statements, I would feel that they are better focused.

When I compared the efforts to minimize waste of Marks & Spencer versus Pret A Manger, I wondered which one is “better” for sustainability. In the end, as much as I liked my 45p M&S sandwich, it seemed like Pret was really doing more of the right thing for the right reasons, as opposed to making the last pence out of a sandwich. Yet it seems M&S could also meet a social need, if the people who most needed the discounted sandwiches could buy them. Perhaps Marks & Spencer, Sainsbury, Tesco, and other markets could form a multi-stakeholder initiative and emulate Pret by donating to a single charity at the end of each day, which charity would then deliver those sandwiches to the needy? It would require coordination, but it could have better outcomes.

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Sustainable small businesses: making dollars and sense, organically speaking

I started wondering more about small businesses and whether a small business can be sustainable from the start and still be successful in the long-term. I realized that it is indeed possible as I started to think more about the organic food markets and how the market has evolved in the States, in particular in the Washington, DC/Maryland region.

In the States, natural foods started to gain popularity in the late 1960s as part of that era’s “pop” culture. In the late 1960s and 1970s, small businesses began to appear as individual natural foods stores started up. These were small standalone “mom and pop” shops that were not always at convenient locations, and many failed because the stores were poorly managed and unprofitable. However, one such store in Washington, DC was the Yes! Organic Market ( that was first established in 1970. This has now grown into 7 locations throughout the local region (in Washington, DC and Maryland). Another chain of stores which I hadn’t even noticed until recently was My Organic Market (MOM) (now re-branded as Mom’s Organic Market ( MOM’s was established in 1987 as a single location, but this business has blossomed into 11 local locations in Maryland, Virginia, and Pennsylvania. Interestingly, MOM’s larger locations even provide “re-fueling” charging stations for electric automobiles in the MOM’s parking lot. In 1991, the local Fresh Fields market was founded, and it grew into a larger chain with locations in the Maryland/Washington DC area, Philadelphia, the New York/New Jersey/Connecticut region, and Chicago. However, in 1996, the Fresh Fields chain of stores was acquired by Whole Foods Market, the most successful natural foods market in the States today.

Since most natural foods markets seemed to start as small businesses, it was interesting to learn about the growth and success of the Whole Foods Market. Whole Foods started in 1980 as a successful local natural foods supermarket. The business continued to grow by building new locations, but also by strategically merging with and acquiring of other already-established and successful natural foods stores throughout the States, including the acquisition of the Fresh Fields chain in 1996 for $135 million as noted above. Having acquired its closest rival Fresh Fields for these markets, it does not appear that Whole Foods will acquired other local chains in the same region. However, Whole Foods Market continues to identify other business opportunities and markets for expansion and continued growth.

When I was last in London, I was surprised that I could only find one Whole Foods Market shop. I naively attributed that to organic foods being more common in the United Kingdom. Therefore, I thought that a US-based business like Whole Foods Market would not be as successful competing in the international markets. However, I later learned that Whole Foods Market did indeed “go international” in 2001 in Canada, and even acquired seven Fresh & Wild stores in 2004 in the United Kingdom. Currently, Whole Foods Market has over 350 locations in the States, 8 locations in Canada, and 8 locations in the United Kingdom. They also have plans to open another location in London, so the international market continues to grow.

This made me realize the naiveté of earlier thinking, that is, that small businesses would always need to sacrifice its sustainability standards in the short-term to achieve sustainability as part of its long-term goals. Although it may be partially dependent on the specific circumstances of the small business and the specific field, the organic foods market has shown that small businesses can indeed be sustainable from the start and still achieve national and international success and prominence if done with the proper business expertise and acumen. Sustainable small businesses require all the skills required of any successful business, including proper business planning and management, as well as commitment, strategic thinking, and knowledge/insights of the markets. Operating sustainably may be more challenging in the startup phase for a small business, but depending on the specific circumstances and business field, it could be achieved.

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Engaging Small Businesses in Global Sustainability: Maslow’s Needs, Piaget’s Permanence, and Identifying With Community

Engaging Small Businesses in Global Sustainability:  Maslow’s Needs, Piaget’s Permanence, and Identifying With Community

Sustainability has sometimes been simply defined by the phrase “Enough for all forever.”  Of course, people can debate what “enough” is and what is practical, but this phrase should also give us pause to consider when people and organizations are at a stage in their individual lives to be able to contribute to that sustainability.  Should we expect “all” to contribute to sustainability “for everyone” throughout their entire life cycles, even at the early developmental stages of the individual or organization?  It has made me wonder about how small startup businesses could consider doing this.

At any given time, individuals and organizations are at different stages in their respective existences and have different needs.  Under Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, there are five levels of needs usually depicted as a pyramid.  From the bottom to the top, these needs are: (1) Physiological, (2) Safety, (3) Belongingness and Love, (4) Esteem, and (5) Self-actualization, respectively.  It is posited that one must meet the “basic needs” (e.g., lower levels) before moving up the pyramid to higher levels and eventually “self-actualization.”  Yet it is also posited that individuals are addressing all these needs throughout their lives, but one level may be “dominant” in a particular time and place in one’s life.  Maslow further theorized that people who achieve self-actualization can be driven by “metamotivation” to be “dedicated people, devoted to some task ‘outside themselves,’ some vocation, or duty, or beloved job.”  Therefore, a person’s focus appears to evolve from an interest of one’s self to an “outside” interest.  Yet what is one’s “own community” and what is “outside” an individual’s or an organization’s self?  Further, what are one’s values and how does one value their own community?

To put this in perspective, I recall suffering from a high fever.  I was having trouble breathing and could not sleep.  My basic physiological needs were no longer being met, and I will confess that I felt like a sick child focused on myself and wanting to get better.  Fortunately, I had access to a physician and prescribed medicines to alleviate the affliction, and I was in good enough health to go back to work within a day, so I no longer needed to worry about what would happen to my family if I did not recover.  Yet there are people who do not have access to medical care for which the same fever could have had more dire consequences, including many more days of severe suffering and being away from work for extended periods of time.  This made me consider how fortunate many of us are, yet it also made me consider how one’s needs are focused by what one considers his/her own community at one time and place in one’s life.  My focus was initially on myself as “my community,” then my focus shifted to also include my family as “my community” as I contemplated the implications of my illness.  Thus, time played a role in which community I identified with as my “own community.”

To analogize, a new born child’s “community” is first only that of the child and his/her mother during the early developmental stage.  It is all about the child and the world revolves around the child.  The child’s needs are then met by the larger community (e.g., his/her parents and family).  As the child grows up, the individual moves through Abraham Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, identifying with different groups and achieving interconnectedness.  Accordingly, the individual will learn to protect the existence of the “community” to which he/she feels connected.  As a baby, that community is only the child and his/her mother, but this would grow to encompass his/her entire family, then hopefully embrace a larger sense of community.

Basically, this could mean that mankind’s natural instinct for “self-preservation” or “self-survival” would possibly extend to whatever “grouping” the individual deems the “community” with which that individual feels interconnected.  For example, I would not hesitate to sacrifice my own life for my child or for my family.  This would ensure survival of my family for the next generation.  However, in the Book of Genesis, Abraham was commanded by God to sacrifice his own son Isaac.  Abraham had faith that this sacrifice was for the greater good, so he was prepared to give up the life of his son for this broader community.  There are many who are noble supporters of sustainability, but would all be willing to sacrifice like Abraham to achieve it.  As another example, one should consider the situation where an individual would be an organ donor upon his/her death, but would hesitate if his/her death was not imminent.  The time and place can play an important role in this decision because in one case, the individual would no longer have any need or use of his/her organs at death, while in the other situation the individual does have a current need for those organs.  To what levels are individuals and organizations willing to support and sacrifice for a greater good or broader community?  If one identifies his/her community with the “global community,” then presumably such support and sacrifices will be made for global sustainability.

Then there comes the concept of “permanence” of the greater good of global sustainability for the individual.  As a child grows, the child also develops an understanding of the concept Jean Piaget’s “object permanence,” that is, children understand that objects continue to exist even after the object moves outside of the senses of the child.  While humans are rationale beings, it is more difficult to interconnect with something that one does not personally experience through his/her own senses.  Accordingly, for people to understand, appreciate, and consistently act on sustainability, it seems that people and organizations need to develop a global needs perspective or “global sustainability permanence.”

This puts forth a challenge for small businesses.  In my experience working with innovative inventors and small business technology companies, the trend has been for them to use their very limited startup resources to get the business “up and running” and on self-sustainability, that is, the focus is on survival of the company itself.  Yet even so, the dream or goal is often for the business to be acquired by a large business and to be able to “cash out” as soon as possible, thus the focus is only on survival until that point (not necessarily on long-term global sustainability).  Therefore, while the business may have an innovative product that could potentially help society, there may be a stronger motivation for maximizing profit for the individual investors.  This could result in self-interests potentially overshadowing “doing good” for the global community.  In such case, the ethics and ethos of the business leaders would need to come into play about how one makes money and at what sacrifices.

Global sustainability requires a worldwide community commitment for success, so there is a need for small businesses to also understand and support this effort.  In its early developmental stages, a small business is like a child and does need to focus on its “basic needs” for self-sustainability and survival of the company.  If the company does not survive, then the global community may never benefit from the potential products/services which that small business could offer.  On the other hand, there may also be occasions where initial use of non-sustainable practices could result in more quickly bringing broader sustainable benefits over the long-term, so an objective assessment would need to be made as to whether the sacrifice is worth the benefit for achieving a greater good.

Some people may argue that self-survival and global sustainability are opposing forces, but self-survival and global sustainability may merely be a Taoist yin-yang relationship, in that one cannot achieve global sustainability if the instinct for self-preservation is not fully evolved (e.g., to include continuance of the species), and one cannot achieve self-preservation if global sustainability is not embraced.  Accordingly, for the small business to achieve this balance, it appears that the organization would need to have achieved and embraced “global sustainability permanence” and to have identified itself as an interconnected part of the global community, thus survival of the global community would be an intrinsic element of the business and no longer “outside the senses” of the organization.  But of course, this commitment to global sustainability would need to flow from the small business’ leadership.


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