Bowen Humphreys
Bowen Humphreys
Project Manager

Counting Light Bulbs: It Makes a Difference, I Promise

I’ll admit it, I’m no stranger to awkwardness; I was an awkward child and it’s doubtful I’ve ever grown out of it. Experiences best described through idioms like “having the wind taken out of your sails” or “getting your ego deflated” are common for me. Everyone wants to look impressive in the eyes of others, whether they be friends or strangers. Some people are just better at it than others, and I’ve never been particularly skilled at self-aggrandizement. This shortcoming has, unfortunately, bit me multiple times recently when I’ve talked to people about my job. Here’s an example situation of how this happens: I’m at a party and begin to chat with an attractive woman. The conversation turns to jobs.

COMM BH Blog LittleThings 2014 05Myself: I work at this awesome non-profit called the Sierra Business Council. I help small businesses save money on their energy bills by providing PG&E rebates for switching out their lighting with energy-efficient upgrades like LEDs.

Attractive Woman: So… you sell light bulbs. 

Myself: Well, not exactly, you see I provide an incentive for them to buy them… I don’t really… err… I wouldn’t describe it that way… but I suppose putting it bluntly, yes. 

Attractive Woman: And what’s an average day for you? 

Myself (sensing an opportunity for redemption): I visit small businesses within the Sierra Nevada and conduct a free lighting audit, then provide them with information on how much they can save if they switch, based on that audit. It’s fun to visit all the quirky and unique businesses we have in California.

Attractive Woman: So… you count light bulbs all day. 

Myself: Now I wouldn’t say… Umm, that’s not entirely… err… yes. 

Attractive Woman (going in for the kill): Well, I really don’t think that’s a way to enact meaningful environmental change. What we really need is large-scale international agreement on a limit to how much carbon we emit. Things are only going to get done if the international community agrees together on how to move forward.

Obviously, my brain doesn't come up with a quick, witty retort until the attractive woman has walked away and I’m fifteen minutes into my drive home. Thanks to the magic of the Internet, however, I can finally respond to the (many) people who have scoffed at or underestimated my job.

Yes, I provide incentives for people to do energy efficient lighting upgrades, so I’m trying to get them to buy light bulbs. Yes, much of my job does involve going into businesses and counting lights. But these little things like changing out lights do add up. Here’s the rub: if the brilliant people representing nations of the world do eventually come to an agreement on climate change, they will go back to their nations and say: we need to reduce our carbon emissions. And the US Government will go to the states and say: you need to reduce your carbon emissions. And the states will go to the utilities and say: you need to reduce your carbon emissions. And the utilities will hire people just like me to change light bulbs.

You see, since Sierra Nevada Energy Watch’s inception in 2010, the program has reduced energy use and greenhouse gas emissions by over 17 million kilowatt hours, or the equivalent of providing energy to over 2,550 homes for a full year. Just from people like me going around, counting light bulbs, and switching them out for energy efficient ones. Plus, those light bulbs will last at least ten years, if not double the time, and those people who switched them out will still be using less energy and saving money.

So go ahead and snort when someone says you can make an impact by changing out light bulbs, using reusable shopping bags, or not buying bottled water. Just know that you could be missing out on a huge opportunity to have a positive impact on the environment and save yourself some money. Like a lot of things in life, the big things are really just lots of small things added together, and if you lose sight of that, you lose out on all the benefits that everyone else will take advantage of. I’m proud of my job at the Sierra Business Council counting light bulbs.

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Ruth Gottstein commented on May 21, 2014
This beginning sentence makes me indifferent to the rest of the blog.