GE’s greener approach – cutting down mercury from fluorescent lightbulbs
Posted by evolvingwheel on October 24, 2007
GE has taken an initiative to cut down the amount of mercury in compact fluorescent light-bulbs (CFLs). Currently, the cock-screw shaped energy-saving bulbs carry 5 mg of mercury. A pretty small amount per unit. But with soaring sales of CFLs over the last few years (150 million just last year), the amount just multiplies to a significant amount. Environmentalists are complaining about the fact that many of these bulbs are ending up in landfills rather than the recycling facility – leading its way to environmental waste and thereby to the ecosystem.
The article can be found [here]. You can read about the initiatives and the numbers for CFLs growth. However, I would like to take the opportunity to talk about the amazing nature of industry around a growing acceptance of an innovation and its commercialization. Again, my interest lies in the development and maturity of an ecosystem around an invention.
I have earlier wrote about CFLs [here] and their tremendous market growth where mass acceptance drives the price/unit down. This cock-screw shaped bulb saves lot of energy and limits CO2 emission considerably. However, as the CFLs catch up, so does the consumption of mercury. Meanwhile, the shear number of waste that ends up in landfill create a hazard for the garbage workers, who often come in direct contact with exposed mercury.
Considering the energy savings, several countries are starting to ban the incandescent light bulbs. However, GE and other manufacturers are still not phasing out the regular bulbs, which has the maximum penetration in the market. There is an obvious balancing act where in one hand a product is slowly reaching its demise (! well eventually) whereas another product from the same portfolio class is ramping up for fine tuning and cost adjustments. The two curves are moving dynamically in opposite directions but with different speeds. Meanwhile, another influential parameter driven by social and governmental policies enforces a greater speed in the declining curve. This can modify the ecosystem with different market players (smaller companies) who may bring new innovations to mitigate the disparity while the big manufacturer adapts.
Ecosystem dynamics is just amazing!