Brightening New Orleans with CFLs
April 18, 2012
By Stephanie Stefanski, Intern, OurEarth.org
By Stephanie Stefanski, Intern, OurEarth.org
Just one small and simple action can cause rippling changes throughout a community. Andreas Hoffmann has witnessed this ripple effect firsthand since he started Green Light New Orleans, a nonprofit that provides free CFLs to residents in low-income communities. By replacing incandescent light bulbs with the more expensive but energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), community members are able to save energy, helping both the environment and their wallets.
Andreas Hoffmann, local musician and entrepreneur.Hoffmann is a musician and member of a touring band. After Hurricane Katrina, he resolved to make changes in his life, as well as changes to the band. He decided that he would make a major difference by calculating his band’s carbon emissions and find a way to offset this pollution. After researching the viable options, he found that installing CFL light bulbs would be the best way to offset his band’s environmental impact.
According to Energy Star, CFLs use 75% less energy than an incandescent light bulb and last ten times longer. They also produce 75% less heat. Even so, CFLs produce the same amount of light as incandescent bulbs - just at a lower wattage. As a result, replacing incandescent light bulbs with CFLs reduces overall energy consumption, which lowers both energy bills and pollution simultaneously.
With so many benefits, Hoffmann wondered why it had taken him so long to change his own light bulbs from incandescent to CFLs. He had grown up in an environmentally conscious family, but never thought about changing his light bulbs. He realized there were two major barriers that discourage or prevent people from changing their bulbs: the financial investment required and the need for an initial push to change. It cost Hoffmann over $100 to change all the bulbs in his house, a prohibitive cost for many families in New Orleans and other low-income communities. He also realized that a real drive was necessary to break the habit of buying and replacing incandescent bulbs with other incandescent bulbs. Even if someone bought a CFL bulb, they would still need to be compelled to change and actually install it.
Hoffmann realized that two actions needed to take place in order to initiate the switch from incandescent bulbs to CFLs on a community-wide scale. First, he would overcome the financial barrier by offering community members free CFLs. Second, to ensure that the CFLs were actually installed and put to use, he would personally go out and help install the light bulbs.
In the beginning, Hoffmann went out on his own to change bulbs, asking his band’s mailing list for donations to make the action possible. He also asked if anyone on the mailing list would like to have their light bulbs changed to CFLs. What began as a small project soon grew into a citywide effort as more residents requested CFLs.
As demand grew, Hoffmann asked light bulb manufacturers for donations and asked friends to help install light bulbs. The organization gained citywide recognition in 2007 when the 9th Ward Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development (CSED) asked Green Light to provide 20 homes with CFLs. In turn, Hoffmann asked that they provide volunteers to help install the bulbs. This established the first Green Light New Orleans volunteer event.
A volunteer installs CFLs in a New Orleans home.Since that first event, the organization now relies heavily on volunteers and focuses on replicating the small action of changing a light bulb to cause a significant difference in the community. By early 2007, they had installed as many as 5,000 light bulbs and were able to install another 20,000 by the end of the year. By the end of 2011, Green Light had installed 300,000 CFL light bulbs in over 12,000 homes.
New Orleans is a city composed of tight-knit communities, but these communities have readily welcomed Green Light volunteers into their homes to install CFLs. Most of these residents find out about the service by word of mouth. They can then call or submit a request online for CFLs to be installed in their own homes. The service has become so popular that there is now a waiting list of 500 to 1,000 households.
On top of all the local community support, Green Light New Orleans has also gained national recognition – volunteers from different states come to install light bulbs. At first, many doubt the true impact of their actions, often asking, “we are only changing light bulbs?” However, once the volunteers go out into the community and see how the people of New Orleans live and see how grateful the people are for the service, they all return smiling. They realize that their actions are much larger than merely changing a light bulb. After an installation, community members begin talking about this project and the experience, causing even more households to sign up for the service. They all become more interested in learning how to make the community environmentally sustainable through simple actions.
Despite its widespread success and growth, Hoffmann states that a major challenge has been funding, especially during the economic downturn in 2010. However, prospects are improving thanks to an energy efficiency program that started in March 2011, which has provided Green Light New Orleans with funding for three years of operations.
Hoffmann states that any entrepreneur or student seeking to start his or her own non-profit should never think that any action is too small – “even small actions can make a tremendous difference”. He states that in the environmental field, it is best to keep the idea very simple; it is easier for the public and volunteers to focus on that one idea, rather than trying to focus on multiple projects and goals. Similarly, it is easier to find funding for smaller, less expensive projects. Once the project grows, then it becomes important to seek long-term funding, which will allow the project to grow steadily and securely.
Another successful installation.Green Light New Orleans has been able to expand and maintain a large base of volunteers through its partnerships with local schools as well as its various service learning projects with Tulane University. By involving the youth of New Orleans as volunteers and as a key component of the project, Green Light grows organically through strong local support and involvement. Furthermore, by working with Tulane students, Green Light New Orleans fosters a cultural exchange by allowing students from all over the country to have a personal experience with community members and to see a side of New Orleans that many miss.
Since 2006, Hoffmann and Green Light New Orleans have reached out to households in New Orleans and engaged them in a simple action with huge benefits, both for the environment and for the community. This organization has also fostered discussion and cultural exchanges as volunteers enter homes to replace light bulbs and communities respond enthusiastically and with increasing interest in becoming more sustainable. The success and widespread impact of this organization and its volunteer efforts illustrates that no action is too small to create change.
For more information, please visit: http://www.greenlightneworleans.org/.