Lightbulbs FAQs

A fairly comprehensive list of frequently asked questions about lightbulbs and climate change.

Will changing a lightbulb really make a difference? Read our FAQs to find out...

Practical details  
  • I've just bought brand new incandescent bulbs - are you asking me to change them while they still work?

    Yes we are. Every day you leave an incandescent burning is a wasted day for the climate and a waste of money for you. All incandescent bulbs, and other energy wasting products, are an immediate threat to the climate that should be eliminated from our houses. The amount of energy they waste is so huge that it cannot be compared to the cost of throwing them away.

  • Are CFLs more expensive?

    An incandescent costs about one euro, and lasts about one year. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) cost between five and ten euros, and last 6 to 15 years. Let's stay conservative and say that the average CFL costs ten euros and lasts eight years... Each CFL saves you 6.50 euros per year.At an European average of 22 lightbulbs per household, the average annual savings per household in Europe would be 140 euros, if all of them were switched to CFLs.

  • Can you use CFLs with a dimmer?

    Normal CFLs cannot be used in normal dimmers. However, the technology is evolving and there are now two options. One is to buy a special dimmer, and the other is to buy a "dim-able CFL". This is a CFL that can be dimmed with a normal switch, to 3 or 4 levels. The advantage is that these bulbs actually save more energy when dimmed, unlike incandescents. When incandescents are dimmed they still use the full amount of electricity.

  • Should I use CFLs in situations where the light gets turned off and on a lot?

    Yes. There is no reason to keep a CFL switched on for longer than an old fashioned incandescent bulb. Modern CFLs do not consume any greater energy during start up and run very efficiently immediately after the first two or three seconds. Also, a CFLs life-span is no longer affected by switching. The current standards for 'Energy Recommended' accreditation requires over 3,000 switching cycles per 8,000 hours of tested life, which is many more than would be necessary for normal domestic use. For special applications such as hallways in flats and lights in corridors activated by motion sensors, some manufacturers produce 'heavy duty' CFLs with up to 500,000 switching cycles capability and 15,000 hours life!

  • How do I know if my lightbulbs are energy wasting incandescents?

    You can tell by the heat they produce. They will be to hot to touch after they're on for a while. You can tell by the packaging, the energy rating will be below D. You can also tell by the wire filament inside.

  • How do I know which compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFLs) should replace my incandescent?

    CFLs are 75 percent more efficient than incandescents. If you want to compare them, use the table below. It might vary a bit from one brand to another so you can ask to try them out in the store. CFL Incandescent 6 Watt 25 Watt 9 Watt 40 Watt 12 Watt 60 Watt 15 Watt 75 Watt 20 Watt 100 Watt

  • Where can I buy compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs)?

    Some supermarkets sell only the stick shaped CFLs. Which is fine, but for a broader range and better advice you can go to do it yourself (DIY/hardware) stores, lighting specialty stores, furniture stores, or electronics stores.

  • What more can I do (as an individual)?

    Don't leave your TV/computer/ etc. on standby, only use full washing machine, hang your clothes instead of putting them in the dryer, etc. Download our guide "how to save the climate" for more tips! Most importantly: Sign up to out email list and be part of the energy [R]evolution.

Lightbulb facts  
  • Will changing a lightbulb really make a difference?

    This campaign is not just about lightbulbs, it’s about energy efficiency standards for all energy using products. But lightbulbs are an easy way to save a lot of energy. More than ninety percent of the energy consumed by obsolete, but still common, incandescent lightbulbs is converted into heat instead of light. A simple switch to energy saving bulbs in the EU alone, would save 20 million tonnes of CO2, equal to shutting down 25 medium-size dirty power plants.

  • Why are compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) better?

    Less than 10 percent of the energy used by an incandescent lightbulb generates visible light; more than 90 percent is wasted as heat. Most of this energy is generated by fossil fuels, which causes CO2 emissions leading to climate change. CFLs use 5 times less energy than incandescents, which means far less CO2 pollution. So CFLs are better for the climate, and at the same time better for your wallet as well.

  • How does a compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL) work?

    A CFL is like a small fluorescent tube. There are two main parts in a CFL: the gas-filled tube (also called the bulb or burner) and the magnetic or electronic ballast. Energy in the form of an electrical current from the ballast flows through the gas, causing it to emit ultraviolet light. The ultraviolet light then excites a white phosphor coating on the inside of the tube. This coating emits visible light. CFLs that flicker when they start have magnetic ballasts; CFLs with electronic ballasts are now much more common.

  • Is it realistic to stop making energy wasting lightbulbs so soon?

    Manufacturers can increase their production capacity in the EU where they already have production chains. Incandescent are mostly imported from China and India and manufacturers are not making money on them. On the contrary, Philips has had an extra profit of 700 million euros this year from sales of CFLs. Climate change needs urgent solutions and measures if we can’t manage to phase out such a common product how can we expect to reach EU efficiency and emission reductions 20 percent targets by 2030.

  • What about compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) and mercury?

    CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, with higher quality brands usually having lower quantities (3 milligrams or less even). However, choosing CFLs over incandescent bulbs can actually reduce mercury emissions. Energy production from fossil fuels, especially coal, releases mercury into the environment. By reducing the amount of energy used, CFLs reduce the amount of mercury pollution from burning fossil fuels. This far outweighs the small amount of mercury in the CFL itself. That said, better consumer education and CFL recycling programs are needed. The US Environmental Protection Agency has a PDF document on this issue you can read here.

  • What to do with old bulbs and CFLs?

    Incandescent bulbs (old ones as well as the ones that still work) should be disposed with your normal trash. CFLs however, should be recycled. Most countries have recycling points where small toxic waste can be brought to, but some retailers like IKEA take back old CFLs as well.

  • Aren't CFLs big and ugly?

    Nowadays CFLs are the same size and shape as incandescents. Sometimes even smaller. The only difference is the little electronic ballast in between the bulb and the screw. The light varies from hard and white (usually the old fashioned stick-shaped) to soft yellowish. The higher quality brands provide soft tone, miniature, dim-able and candle-shaped CFLs.

  • Don't compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) flicker and take a while to reach full strength?

    This depends on the quality of the CFL. In places where you want bright light immediately, it makes sense to use CFLs that you tried out in the store.

  • What about halogen bulbs? Are they bad?

    Halogens are better than incandescent bulbs, but still mainly produce heat instead of light. Greenpeace wants the worst halogens to be banned in the short term, and wants the required efficiency of lights to increase generally.

  • Halogens are used predominantly in shops - are you getting them to change?

    Everyone (individuals as well as companies) should be smart with energy, which is why Greenpeace is working to get dangerously wasteful products off the market. But we should also be smart about how we use even highly efficient products.

  • What is an LED? And should we skip CFLs and go straight to LEDs?

    LED stands for Light Emitting Diode. For now, they are seriously over hyped. They will probably compete with CFLs in a few years, but we cannot afford to wait.

  • How long do compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) last?

    With an average use of 3 hours per day (this is approximately 1,000 hours per year) a CFL that guarantees 6,000 hours (which is the minimum for a good quality CFL) lasts 6 years. An incandescent typically lasts only one year. Some CFLs last 15 years.

Issue background  
  • Ban the Energy Wasters - some background on why

    Energy efficiency makes up a full half of the energy revolution we need to confront climate change, with smarter energy generation making the other half. The Greenpeace Energy [R]evolution scenario launched in January, shows that massive development of clean and decentralized energies together with ambitious efficiency measures can reduce global emissions by 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, while still leaving room for economic growth. Lighting (domestic, office and street) is a significant use of energy on a global level. The International Energy Agency has calculated that lighting uses 19 percent of global electricity produced. This electricity used for lighting is a major source of CO2 emissions - equivalent to 70 percent of that from the world’s cars. Lighting requires as much electricity as is produced by all gas-fired generation, and 15 percent more than produced by either hydro or nuclear power . Based on current best practices and available technologies, in the future worldwide energy demand can be reduced by 47 percent by 2050 in comparison with the reference scenario. In the EU, the business as usual scenario predicts energy demand will rise by more than 40 percent by 2050. With a dedicated energy efficiency strategy, it can fall to 65 percent of what we consume today. If we make the switch to CFLs in homes EU wide, we could shut down 25 power stations, and if we switch to efficient lighting for all usage (domestic, street and office) we could shut down 67 power plants.

  • What needs to be done?

    Retailers should immediately remove all incandescent bulbs from their shelves. Consumers should immediately switch to compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs). Manufacturers should publicly declare their plan stop producing all home lighting products with <25 lumen/ Watt (this includes incandescents and old halogens) within 2 years (before the end of 2009). National governments should enact immediate unilateral bans on light bulbs (preferably on the basis of minimum energy efficiency standards); and push drastic mandatory efficiency standards before by 2010 for all other energy wasting products.

  • Have any countries already banned energy wasting lightbulbs?

    Various countries have been talking about it (California in the US, Ontario in Canada and Australia) but within the EU no country has banned bulbs yet. Greenpeace strongly encourages EU members to do so.

  • Won't European governments say they have to wait for EU legislation?

    There is no reason that we cannot have national bans. If there is no existing EU law, EU member states are allowed to set their own standards. Once a country passes legislation, the European Commission may check if this law violates internal market rules. The more countries with binding rules for lighting, the better chance of getting an EU ban. If European governments won't even ban incandescent lightbulbs (a technology from the 18th century!) how do they hope to meet their declared 20 percent efficiency target by 2020?

  • Is this campaign in Europe only?

    This campaign is global, and we are working world wide to replace obsolete, energy wasting products with smarter technology. Since EU already has a political process about energy efficiency underway, and is one of the world's largest markets it makes sense to focus additional efforts there. In short, changing the rules within the EU will impact the global market.

  • What should manufactures do?

    Stop the production of old incandescent bulbs (lighting products below 25 lumen per Watt) by 2010 (end of 2009). If Greenpeace demands were met wouldn't there be a massive lightbulb shortage that would leave us sitting in the dark? We need an energy revolution to avoid catastrophic climate change. It's not too late, but we no longer have the luxury of waiting to act. The market will have to shift to accommodate this reality. We are confident that lightbulb manufacturers will react fast enough to (and benefit from) this shift if consumers, governments and retailers demand it.

  • Will some companies benefit from banning energy wasting lightbulbs?

    Yes. Many incandescent lightbulb manufactures also make efficient compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs), and the need for smarter energy use has been known for years. Nimble companies will benefit from this expected market shift by meeting increased demands for CFLs; companies slower to shift production to modern lightbulbs will loose out.

  • What should retailers do?

    Remove all incandescent bulbs from their shelves immediately, and offer a wider range of efficient lighting products, especially CFLs, to consumers (as well as better information and service to consumers about CFL recycling).

  • What can I (as individual) do to support this campaign?

    Change your lightbulbs immediately, bring your incandescent bulbs back to your retailer and ask them to stop stocking wasteful lightbulbs and offer alternatives! Several retailers like Curry’s in UK have already announced they will remove incandescents from their shelves. Encourage your local retailer to do the same.