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The Though Kitchen - Dedicated to Stirring the Pot

Sustainability at Scale

Posted by Alex | November 25th, 2010 | Filed under Positive Change, Sustainability

CFL-blbHere’s a true story that Jamie, our director of textile development and sustainability, told me today:

Back in 2008, Darrell Meyers, an associate at a Wal-Mart in North Carolina, was on a break and noticed that in all the vending machines in the break room were lit up. Inside each one, he realized, there was a light bulb sucking power 24 hours a day. He thought about how much electricity was wasted and wondered how much money the company could save by taking the lights out of all the vending machines.

Now, while Wal-Mart may catch a lot of flack for many things, missing an opportunity to save money isn’t one of them. So when Darrell’s idea got back to corporate headquarters, they ran some numbers and figured out that Wal-Mart could save more than $1 million every year by taking out the bulbs. One million dollars.

You can find all that proudly trumpeted on WalMart’s own site. What they don’t mention are the energy savings. A 25 watt bulb on 24-hours a day, running on coal-generated electricity, will result in around 460lbs of CO2 being released into the atmosphere per year per bulb. A back-of-the-envelope calculation (four bulbs per machine, 4 machines per Wal-Mart, 8,400 Wal-Marts) would suggest that just unplugging those bulbs reduced Wal-Mart’s carbon footprint by some 61.8 million pounds of CO2.

So what does that tell us? Wal-Mart didn’t make this change to save the planet; they did it to save money. But they only really noticed it because they’re big enough to save a million dollars by unplugging some bulbs. However, that doesn’t mean the same kind of numbers-based thinking doesn’t apply to us as individuals. While things like changing your lightbulbs (or, another great example, sealing your windows) may seem less sexy than solar panels and hybrid cars, they are far more impactful, and scale far more quickly. It’s the low hanging fruit, and it’s time we picked it.

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