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Ecumenical Eco-Justice Light Bulb Project
Spares the Atmosphere by Reducing Emissions

May 6, 2002, NEW YORK - Question: How many people of faith does it take to screw in a light bulb? Answer: Only one, but the bulb should be a CFL (compact fluorescent light).

That line gets a chuckle from people involved in an ecumenical project to promote the use of energy-efficient and long-lasting CFL bulbs as an effective way to protect God's creation from pollutants in the atmosphere.

Called "A Bright Idea," the project encourages youth groups in congregations to sell CFLs as a way to accomplish two goals at once: to do something for the environment and to raise funds for youth group activities. "A Bright Idea" is a project of the National Council of Churches’ Eco-Justice Working Group in cooperation with several participating denominations and with Brethren Press, the publishing house of the Church of the Brethren, which is handling marketing and distribution.

Project organizers note that a change from incandescent bulbs to CFLs results in dramatic savings in energy consumption, thereby reducing emission of carbon dioxide, which along with other greenhouse gases is responsible for global warming and the resulting destructive changes in climate worldwide. CFL use also keeps a significant amount of soot out of the air, helps protect the ozone layer by cutting down on the emission of nitrogen oxide, and helps prevent acid rain by reducing emission of sulfur dioxide.


These reductions are possible because CFLs produce light but not heat, thus consuming only one-fourth the electricity needed for the same lumen output of a regular bulb. In contrast, an incandescent light bulb makes light inefficiently by heating a filament to "white hot," generating 90 percent heat and 10 percent light.

Since its debut last summer, the program has enlisted youth groups in 62 congregations in 20 states, according to Russ Matteson of Brethren Press. Participants come from a dozen denominations.

In the aggregate, the groups have sold 5,000 CFLs to date, Matteson reports. Over the life of these bulbs, more than 2 million pounds of carbon dioxide will be kept from polluting the atmosphere, illustrating the impact that CFL use can make on slowing the pace of climate change. The 5,000 bulbs also represent a reduction of 656 pounds of soot, 15,750 pounds of sulfur dioxide and 8,550 pounds of nitrogen oxide.

Citing these reductions, the Rev. Richard Killmer, NCC Director for Environmental Justice, says that the youth fund-raiser is far more significant "than selling candy bars."

"The CFL is a product that does good," Killmer said, "and it involves the youth in doing education about climate change. It builds on the fact that today’s youth are more environmentally aware. For them, this project makes sense."


As "A Bright Idea" begins to catch on, stories about its success have come in from around the country.

Members of First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hartland, Wis., have embraced the CFL project, said Terri Burki, a member of the church and a leader in Wisconsin’s statewide Interfaith Climate Change Campaign, one of 21 such state campaigns that the NCC has had a hand in fostering.

Following services on Earth Sunday, April 21, the day before Earth Day, the youth of First Congregational set out demonstration lamps that allowed parishioners to compare a 60-watt incandescent bulb with a noticeably brighter 15-watt CFL. Before seeing that display, "many of the church members did not know about CFLs," said Burki. "That shocked me; I’ve been using them for seven years. But most people were surprised at how much energy they save and how that translates into dollars."

Church members also felt empowered to fight climate change by being offered "something that people can do in their own homes," Burki said. "It went over so well that we sold all but three out of our box of 50 bulbs and are taking more orders." With the proceeds, the youth "are giving something back by purchasing CFLs for use in the church," said Burki.

Several youth at La Verne (Calif.) Church of the Brethren will be helped to go to their denomination’s national summer youth conference with the $600 their group made selling CFLs, but the group saw an even greater benefit of the project. "When the youth got up in church to speak about the project, they said, ‘You’re not just supporting us; you are doing something good for the environment,’ " reported Janet Ober, who is the church’s associate minister for children and youth. "The youth really got behind the project," Ober said. "It was good feeling to do a fund-raiser that had a service component to it."

Sales also have been brisk at Prince of Peace Church of the Brethren in Littleton, Colo. Congregation member Lucille Clannin, who is assisting the congregation’s youth with the CFL project, said that Prince of Peace is working to sell its second box of 50 bulbs. "That’s fairly good for a small church," Clannin observed. Prince of Peace has 136 members, she said.

At $9 per bulb, the CFLs sold by the youth are competitive with those in stores, Clannin reported, as did church groups in other parts of the country. The youth group keeps $2 from each sale.

In Maine, people of faith have connected to the youth CFL project through the Maine Council of Churches, which has made the project a part of the Council’s wider "Let There Be Light" campaign. Participants in "Let There Be Light" have set a goal of saving 1 million pounds of carbon dioxide, said Anne D. Burt, coordinator for Maine’s Interfaith Climate Change Initiative, reporting that participants have saved 800,000 pounds to date. "Some have changed the way they do laundry, some have even purchased hybrid vehicles, but the emphasis has been on reaching the goal one compact bulb at a time," Burt said.

Among the many CFL-related anecdotes that Burt has collected during this effort is the story of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Brunswick, Maine, whose social hall is lighted by wrought iron chandeliers. "St Paul’s installed the twister-type CFL to beautiful effect; it actually enhanced the look of the chandeliers," she said. "But the light was so much brighter that it revealed dingy walls and they decided that they need to paint!"

For more information about "A Bright Idea," contact Russ Matteson at Youth CFL Project, 1451 Dundee Avenue, Elgin, IL 60120, or visit


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