The Global Anti-Lightbulb Campaign

As CFLs did not exactly fly off the shelf when first introduced, due to high price, poor light quality and technical drawbacks, the lighting industry found more drastic measures necessary to make people buy the new FL lamp, besides working on improving the product. In the campaign to force an unappealing and expensive product on unwilling customers, a very well thought-out campaign was launched where nothing was left to chance. This is how you do it:

1. First give the compact fluorescent lamp a more appealing name, like “Energy Saver” (or equivalent in other languages) since most people associate fluorescent lamps with dull office light which may be OK at work but hardly at home.

2. Create some great-sounding PR slogans, like “gives 5 times more light”, “saves 80% energy”, “saves hundreds of dollars/pounds/etc per year” and “lasts 10 times longer”, based on theoretical figures for the best lamps on the market. Nevermind that this is not true for most CFLs in real life situations, just repeat it in brochures and PR-articles until it becomes a ‘fact’.

3. Then make sure to target the main competition, that pesky incandescent bulb which consumers insist on preferring due to its low price and nice light, and blame it for everything you can think of, complete with derogatory pictures of dark sad bulbs beside pictures of bright happy CFLs.

4. Use the growing public environmental concern and convince leading environmental organisations and authorities of the “environmental benefits” of CFLs, based on inflated figures and downplayed mercury impact, and you’ll have reliable allies who would otherwise surely complain about mercury content (if/when eventually informed of it) but who will now instead do part of your marketing for free. Finger-point the incandescent bulb as the “bad guy” and let them beat up the competitor for you. Klaus Stanjek explains how the campaign was carried out in Germany:

“It was [vital] that this targeted and expensive campaign also reached customers whose ecological conscience motivated them to try and save energy. Through a clever information strategy Osram and other lamp manufacturers convinced many newspapers and magazines to print their argumentation, and they gained the support of Stiftung Warentest [equivalent to “Which?”], “Globus” (a TV programme on environmental issues), the German Federal Environmental Agency, and even critical organisations such as the B.U.N.D. (German Association for the Preservation of the Environment and Nature). By now the ministries even prompt their admistrative offices to install “energy saving lamps”. These fluorescent lamps were not even assessed by others than the manufacturers themselves.”

5. Convince energy agencies and utilities that switching to CFLs will save more energy than just about any other measure conceivable, and you’ll have a free, tax-paid marketing channel working steadily to sell your product. Here is one example described in the paper (F. Kjoerulf – Transforming the CFL Market by Consumer Campaigns, 1997) of how Danish utilities, by targeted campaigns between 1990 and 1997, managed to increase CFL use dramatically by its detailed plan to overcome consumer resistance:

This paper focuses on the fact that it has been proven that it is possible to make a dramatic influence on the market by combining marketing tools and co-operation with the manufacturers and distributors.


Why transform the market. The Danish electric utilities have spotted the use of CFL’s as an alternative to incandescent lamps as the absolutely most potential demand side management (DSM) program within the domestic office and retail sectors.

The major barriers to choosing CFL’s was found to be:
• high “initial price”
• “does not fit”
• doubt about light “quality” (color, long light up time)
• doubt about actual lifetime
• beliefs that savings are only possible where the light is on for long periods
• fears that the CFL’s cause mercury pollution

Obviously the goal for electric utilities would be to increase the market share for CFLS. However, it requires quite different approaches to overcome the barriers. The barriers were attacked by different means:

The use of price incentives, such as give-aways, rebates and financing has been tried out. It is believed (and turned out to be true) that the price will decrease in time. When volume goes up, production technology is refined and last but not least the competition will increase. It could be argued that keeping away the low-price/low quality products by initiatives as described in this paper would delay this process. Lately the Danish market has experienced a price bomb by a CFLS claiming to be of high quality being offered country wide at a 1/3 of the established market price. This might be the beginning of a drastic price slide.

“Does not fit”
Several activities have been considered to overcome this problem as for instance contests among designers and architect to develop light fixtures designed for CFLs. So far no initiatives have been taken by the utilities. The manufacturers are of course equally concerned with this barrier and more and more compact CFLs have arrived trough the years. However, due to the different characteristics of the CFLS opposed to the incandescent lamp, the need for better fixture design is still evident.

Light “quality” (color, long light up time)
So far the best light quality has been consistent with the CFLs with long life time and good switch on/off capacity. Therefore no specific action has been taken to lower this barrier. However it is still expected that introduction of five-powder CFLs will have a positive effect. According to CFL manufacturers the concerns for light quality is mainly a Nordic phenomenon.

Life time
The barrier of lifetime does not seem to be a major barrier (in 1992 it was 5%, [ref 3]). However, when the first “bamboo bulbs” arrived at the Danish market, it was immediately evident that stories about CFLs that quickly burned out or lost light output, would be a setback to the growing market for CFLs. It was therefore decided by the Danish electric utilities to attack this development by testing all the CFLs on the market. At first the tests were merely a tool for the consultants to give the proper advice to the customer. Later on the CFLs that passed the test were listed on a positive list named SPAREPÆRELISTEN®. The CFLs listed were allowed to use a special label symbol with the text “recommended by your electric utility”.

Beliefs that savings are only possible where the light is on for longer periods
It is a strong popular belief that it is not economically feasible to switch off and on fluocent tubes very often. This belief has somewhat been transferred to the CFLs. This belief could be confirmed as it turned out that frequent switching of some CFLs seemed to cause shorter service life. In 1995 it was therefore decided to add a test of the life time with a predefined switching cycle.

Fears that the CFLs cause mercury pollution
In the Danish electricity supply the major production source is coal based cogeneration. It is evident that the mercury pollution resulting from the electricity production for supplying an incandescent lamp of equivalent light output, for the service life of a CFLs, is greater than the mercury content of the CFLs.


The campaigns were organized in the following schedule:

A local test campaign is launched by ELSAM (cooperation covering 57% of the Danish electricity market) and OKE (utility). Price incentives are used together with newspaper advertisements and general information.

NESA (utility) runs a campaign with the goal to accelerate the market penetration of the CFLS and breaking barriers, especially price and general knowledge. The campaign used “agreements” with the suppliers of a special price. Simultaneously it was possible to pay the CFLs via the electricity bill. During this campaign the bamboo products showed up for the first time and caused confusion as they were sold at a lower price than the “campaign price”. The number of households with CFLs was increased from 30% to 42% in the 7-week campaign period. All together 170.000 CFLs were sold in the NESA district.

ELSAM and the utilities run a campaign involving TV, local radio and newspaper advertisement. Price “agreements” are used. Co-operation with the retail outlets and in-shop advertisement is introduced. Further local events by the utilities are part of the campaign. The campaign resulted in 400.000 CFLs sold in 3 months.

ELSAM and utilities run a campaign as 1990 but also introducing the possibility to borrow a box of the different types of CFLs to test wich type suit the particular application. The campaign resulted in 400.000 CFLs sold in 30 days.

The Danish utilities runs a nationwide campaign involving the above mentioned “positive list”. The campaign resulted in 570.000 CFLs sold in 3 months.

The utilities in the eastern part of Denmark run a campaign specially focused on the ability of the CFLS to turn on and off.


The market reactions have been that Denmark is among the countries with most CFLs per household. 2.0 CFLS/household (1995) [ref 1]. It is proven, that it has been possible by the above mentioned marketing tools to keep the low quality products away from the Danish market, where the market share of the far east “no name” products is less than 5% compared to the German market where the market share is 30-40 % [ref 1]. The interest in energy saving by using SPAREPÆRER® has been growing, even though the general “green awareness” seems to have topped in 1995 as illustrated below.

6. Encourage other national authorities, organisations and large companies to jump on the band wagon with various campaigns. In the Market Transformation Strategy paper by Kalle Hashmi, current Executive Officer of Technology & Market Unit at the Swedish Energy Agency (STEM), gives a candid description of how it was done in Sweden (although he was not involved himself at that time):

The first campaign was launched by NUTEK in cooperation with IKEA in 1993, when IKEA celebrated its 50th anniversary. IKEA through federal government subsidy donated a CFL to each of its “IKEA Family” members. NUTEK prepared a small information leaflet containing information about energy efficiency (lumen/watt) and lamp life (hours) of CFLs, for distribution with each lamp. However, this information leaflet had no relevance for the actual lamps distributed by IKEA i.e. there was no established or known relationship between how the quality of lamps distributed by IKEA to the households corresponded with the performance figures mentioned in the leaflet. In retrospect it may be said that the CFLs distributed by IKEA were of extremely poor quality. There were, however, some advantages gained through this campaign i.e. that IKEA got seriously involved in the market for CFLs, not only in Sweden but globally.

The paper admits that during the 1990s:

STEM engaged in ill conceived, inconsistent and ad-hoc promotions. STEM did not take into account the consumer perspective but rather concentrated exclusively on energy efficiency and technical issues. STEM relied indiscriminately on the information provided by the vendors. STEM was very passive about dealing with CFL technology failures that affected main benefit claims. STEM did not study, did not know or admit technology limitations. STEM did not demand or work to establish minimum performance requirements. STEM never questioned why long life claims were not backed by a guarantee.

The UK has also had a strong Market Transformation Programme.

A couple of years ago the European Commission also made a detailed summary of the various national – often tax-paid – campaigns in Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Ireland, UK; Spain, Italy, Lavtia, Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic, complete with suggestions on how to keep increasing CFL sales in all of Europe: Residential Lighting Consumption and Saving Potential in the Enlarged EU. Also mentioned in Market transformation for energy-efficient products: lessons from programs in developing countries:

“The Global Environment Facility (GEF) has allocated more than $90 million over the past 10 years to eight energy-efficient-product market transformation projects in developing and transition countries. We review the early experience and lessons from these projects and offer a framework for thinking about market transformation program design based on GEF project designs, cataloging both demand-side and supply-side strategies.”

“From its early roots in the early 1990s, market transformation blossomed into a comprehensive energy efficiency approach widely sanctioned as effective and low-cost, and became a common energy efficiency policy in Canada, the United States, Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, and several other European countries.”

In developing and transition countries, market transformation programs have made some inroads, but not on the scale found in developed countries. Countries with notable programs include Brazil, China, Hungary, Mexico, Peru, the Philippines, Poland, South Africa, and Thailand.”

7. Besides regular TV & magazine ads, spread PR-brochures and PR-articles through every possible channel, in order to set a standard where no light-related article is published without mentioning the compulsory PR-slogans and anti-lightbulb-arguments at least once – even if the article has something negative to say about CFLs!

8. Use Internet websites and blogs to further your cause and let other well-meaning idealists do the job for you, thinking they’re helping to save the planet.

9. Always be active and pro-active and leave nothing to chance. As soon as some new embarrassing fact about CFLs is discovered and pointed out in media, issue “FAQs” and “Myth-Fact” lists that “debunk” or downplay anything unfavourable about CFLs, and make sure they are spread through as many channels as possible, including the flood of unsuspecting green websites and blogs who usually dutifully repeat these carefully constructed PR-arguments more or less verbatim without ever questioning the source. Keep ignoring and ridiculing every attempt to offer a different perspective.

10. If possible, also make sure to produce at least one lamp model which does not have the discovered limitation, e.g. that is dimmable, can be used at high or low tempeatures, looks like a bulb, fits in recessed luminaires etc., so that customers, journalists, lighting designers, light researchers and others who notice drawbacks with the CFL that the lightbulb doesn’t have, can be silenced with the argument that such shortcomings “are a thing of the past”. Nevermind if the improved CFL costs several times as much, is hard to find and may have lower efficacy or other trade-off effects, or that most CFLs still have more limitations than benefits.

11. Finally, if all this still doesn’t help, persuade EU legislators and world leaders everywhere to ban the competitor in the name of “saving the environment” and push the CFL for domestic use above all other alternatives. Starting with the most popular frosted incandescent and halogen bulbs so that everyone who wants or needs a frosted bulb will be forcred to buy a CFL instead!

“Philips calls for action to replace incandescent bulbs with energy saving lamps”
“OSRAM welcomes the European Union directive to phase out incandescent lamps” and European Lamp Companies Federation proudly announces that “ELC members participate in a number of EU energy saving initiatives.”

Read more about why this ban (or “phasing-out” as they call it) is a very ill-concieved idea, and what would be a more effective approach to save both money and the environment: New Electric Politics

Update 4 Aug: Some confirming highlights from the 2006 updated detailed list of marketing strategy and “consumer education” bullet points by the the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory for the U.S. Department of Energy:

• Identify and focus first on niche markets where the benefits of the new technology make sense.
• Focus product marketing on attribute that is most important to consumers (e.g., energy savings and long life for CFLs).
• Be specific about benefits. How long do they last? How much do they save?
• Back up long-life claims with guarantees.
• Shift consumer focus from product price to product value. Build a message of value (costs more/worth more).
• Focus message where the technology can meet/exceed expectations.
• In marketing literature show comparisons of savings to the standard technology, e.g., 1 CFL = 10 incandescents.
• Use mass media, both paid (TV, radio, newspaper, and magazine ads) and unpaid (host press events, tie news releases to current events).
• Promote products through several different mediums to reinforce familiarity.
• Work toward consistent, industry-wide terminology. Identify and avoid terms with negative connotations.

• Target training programs/awareness campaigns to market channels such as builders, designers, and retailers.
• Join forces with others in national energy-efficiency programs (e.g., ENERGY STAR).
• Use utility or manufacturer field representatives as link between manufacturers and retailers; they can educate and train retailers, set up displays, distribute promotions, and iron out problems.
• Coordinate incentive programs; avoid overlapping, inconsistent promotions.
• Require action on part of consumer, in give-away programs, for higher installation and retention rates, and greater consumer awareness, e.g., make customers mail in a request card to get the free bulb, don’t just hand them out door-to-door to customers who may not want them.
• Delay program launch rather than introduce inferior products; first impressions are long lasting.
• Design multi-year programs around the lighting season (Sept to April) not the calendar year.

• Strive to make new lighting technologies available through market channels where products are typically purchased (e.g., lighting purchases are often made at grocery stores).
• Conduct in-store product demonstrations.
• Let consumers see new technology – use lit in-store displays and see-through packaging.
• Invest in visible, attractive point-of-purchase displays and signage.
• Arrange shelf displays by lighting application rather than manufacturer and identify good/better/best options that correlate to longer product life and greater energy efficiency.
• Provide retailers with many education tools including brochures, posters, demonstrations, and wall displays.
• Support retailer efforts with utility bill stuffers and product demonstrations at local fairs, home shows, and energy shows.
• Encourage and applaud enthusiastic and ongoing retailer participation.

Compact Fluorescent Lighting in America: Lessons Learned on the Way to Market


Even though I’ve followed this anti-lightbulb campaign since its conception in the late 1980s and saw this coming, I’m still astonished that it was this easy to get an almost global ban in such a relatively short time when it often takes several decades to get a ban on things that are proven to be hazardous to public health, the environment, or both.

But why would the lighting industry want the light bulb banned; after all, they make incandescent bulbs too, so what difference does it make to them if customers buy one of their lamps or the other? Well, I recently got the answer to that question from a product manager at Philips Lighting. It was so simple I should have guessed it myself…

Prices on incandescent lamps are now so low that leading producers no longer make a profit on them!

OSRAM appears to confirm this: “For many years, the manufacture and sale of incandescent lamps have become less and less important for their business.”

Whereas CFLs are an estimated 80 billion dollar business. And the LED market is expected to reach $14 billion by 2013.

And companies are, after all, in business to make a profit.

As simple as that?


Update Sept 2: Here Philips admits to ‘helping’ U.S. Congress set the new lighting standards:

“Companies such as Amsterdam-based Royal Philips Electronics NV, the world’s largest light-bulb maker, and GE, seeing the determination by Democrats to act on energy legislation, helped Congress develop the lighting standards that will end the sale of incandescent light bulbs within a decade.

Randall Moorhead, vice president of government affairs at Philips Electronics North America, said that after the 2006 elections, in which Democrats took control of both chambers of Congress, his company knew it needed to act.

‘We knew that 12 years of pent-up demand by Democrats to do the things they wanted to do was going to be released in a number of ways and one of those ways was in energy efficiency,” said Moorhead.

Ungar called the light bulb standard ‘the single most important efficiency standard in the history of the program.”’

Bloomberg: Light Bulbs, Gas Changing as U.S. Energy Bill Passes

Update Dec 2: More of Philips’ bragging in the press:

“The head of Philips Electronics NV said his company’s lighting business stands to gain from government spending on energy efficiency in the U.S. and abroad.

“Philips said it won a $6 million contract with the U.S. General Services Administration to retrofit two federal buildings in San Francisco and Oakland, Calif., with energy efficient lighting. The Dutch company said $71 billion of the $787 billion stimulus package is reserved for green initiatives and another $20 billion for green-tax …”

Philips CEO Sees Gain From Efficiency Push

CFL makers rise to defend incandescent bulb ban

Article from Dec 2007 by Harry Verhaar, Philips Lighting, complete with all the usual lies and exaggerations:

The idea of phasing out incandescent light bulbs in order to save energy has been widely welcomed across the world and for many the question is not “if” we should do it, but “how fast” we can do it.

The benefits are clear: The potential energy savings are 10 billion Euros per year in Europe alone, along with 25 million tonnes of CO2. Globally, these savings are roughly four to five times. Politically too it seems an easy win at a time when strict carbon reduction targets are being set and the absolute need to reduce carbon emissions have been widely accepted by governments, scientists and NGOs.

However, a number of people remain uncomfortable with the idea. Resistance is generally based on the notion that the only alternative to the incandescent light bulb is the CFL energy saving bulb and a number of supposed (negative) issues associated with this light source are then listed and multiplied. This picture however is misleading.

In fact, the Lighting Industry is fast developing several alternatives to the incandescent light bulb in addition to the new ranges of CFL lamps. A new generation of energy saving Halogen lamps is now becoming available in Europe and the US. These offer energy savings from 30 to up to 50 %, will last three times longer, and provide a quality of light, which is equal to that of an incandescent bulb. These new lamps are dimmable, allowing for even greater energy savings, and are the same size and shape as the ordinary incandescent bulbs. Most importantly, they can directly replace incandescent bulbs. Within a few years these new halogen alternatives will be available in the huge quantities needed.

The second alternative being developed is light emitting diodes (LEDs). These will truly take lighting into the 21st Century with lifetimes that are fifty times longer than incandescent bulbs and anticipated energy savings of 95 %. The first high quality light generation to provide enough light to replace low wattage incandescent bulbs will be available within 1–2 years and major developments are expected within the next 3–5 years. LEDs will also offer energy saving alternatives for those specialist areas such as fridge and oven lamps, which CFL lamps are unsuited for.

The existing CFL lamp also offers an important alternative. The days when they were heavy, ugly and pricey have long gone. Today’s CFL lamps offer energy savings of up to 80 %, are small, bulb or candle-shaped, and much cheaper. Colour variations are also available and increasing numbers can also be dimmed. Well known brands offer the best all round quality. They are ideal for areas where lighting is left on for longer periods such as halls, landings and porches.

However a number of concerns still exist regarding CFLs. These lamps contain minute amounts of mercury, which is needed to create light in an efficient way. Despite the fact that the mercury used would fit on the tip of a ballpoint pen, there is a justified worry about this mercury being disposed of in the ground. CFL’s fall under the EU WEEE recycling laws and it is expected that in the future the great majority will be recycled.

However, mercury is also omitted in the atmosphere from the power system, and the mercury contained in lamps need to be weighed against that emitted from power plants.

Studies show that indirectly the additional energy usage of incandescent bulbs is responsible for more mercury entering the environment than that is contained in a CFL. It should also be remembered that each CFL lamp means that 6–10 incandescent bulbs don’t need making, transporting and disposing off. Life cycle studies have clearly shown that about 90 % of the environmental impact of a light bulb is in its usage phase, in other words when it consumes electricity. Both these factors favour the CFL.

It is often assumed that the discussion about phasing out incandescent bulbs is about lighting in the home, but figures show that about 25 % of all such bulbs still sold in Europe today end up in commercial applications such as hotels, restaurants and even offices.

There is also a striking unbalance between the amount of electricity used by incandescent bulbs, their sales volumes and the work they actually perform: Incandescent bulbs consume 25 % of all electricity used for lighting in the world, but they only produce 4 % of all electric light. This is despite the fact that they represent 2/3 of all global lamp sales!

Huge savings can thus be made in the way we are lighting our offices, roads, shops and factories. It would be a real shame, if we let our nostalgia for a century-old, inefficient bulb, obscure the need to switch to more energy efficient technologies.

Why we need to get rid of incandescent bulbs

See also my post Global Ban Craze



  1. Jorge said,

    November 15, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    Even if I work in agriculture, my latest research in LCA have worn me that new technologies have a dark side… I knew this from a long time ago, but never have time to check the bulb stuff. Your blog is just great! Thousands of references and proofs… the problem is that people never behave rationally, just follow emotions inspired by mass media and their friends/family thoughts…Thanks for your time!

  2. Halogenica said,

    November 16, 2009 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks for your feedback!

  3. peter said,

    June 14, 2010 at 4:21 pm

    well worth rereading this post, with those updates too

    “And the LED market is expected to reach $14 billion by 2013.”
    have you the link for it (not work in above)

  4. peter said,

    June 14, 2010 at 4:26 pm

    …same with the Bloomberg link following that ….

  5. halogenica said,

    July 24, 2012 at 1:50 pm

    (The Danish Market Transformation report was also removed so I found a cached copy and pasted it here a few weeks ago.)

  6. halogenica said,

    August 19, 2012 at 11:38 pm

    Found this projection from 2010:

    “World Lamps Market to Reach US$24 Billion by 2015, According to a New Report by Global Industry Analysts, Inc.”

  7. September 2, 2012 at 11:17 am

    […] of the global Market Transformation Programme all through the 1990s until now. As I reported in The Global Anti-Lightbulb Campaign post, Kalle Hashmi, Executive Officer of Technology & Market Unit at the Swedish Energy Agency, […]

  8. December 19, 2012 at 11:09 am

    […] another link: http://greenwashinglamps.wordpress.c…bulb-campaign/ There have been several light bulb conspiracies in the past. Reply With […]

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  10. August 31, 2013 at 10:41 pm

    […] to be several times more expensive than the old. The legislation was actually drafted by the big corporate lighting manufactures themselves, no doubt to increase profits under the guise of "environmental efficiency". They lobbied […]

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