On April 13, 1970, Apollo 13 crew experienced a sharp bang and a vibration followed by warning lights. "Houston, we've had a problem," reported Jack Swigert to NASA ground control. About 200,000 miles from Earth, oxygen tank #2 had exploded and caused tank #1 to fail, leaving astronauts Swigert, Lovell and Haise without the normal supply of electricity, light and water.
The first step in finding solutions and innovations is honestly accepting responsibility for the current circumstances. This is as true for astronauts with a big technical problem as it is true for individuals, organizations and nations. The sooner we own the present reality whether we like it or not, the sooner we can address it creatively and responsibly.
We are facing enormous global issues: green house gas emissions, climate change, dependence on foreign oil, demand for energy, and increasing cost to heat and cool living and working spaces. The United States consumes 23% of the world's energy and has 5% of the world's population. The Apollo 13 crew heard a bang, felt a vibration and saw warming lights to alert them to their problem. Our environmental issues don't give us such clear signals or at least we don't recognize them until we have a very significant problem.
In 1976 Milton Friedman won the Nobel Prize for Economics. In his opinion, the only purpose for business is to make money for stockholders. Is that true?
It is a bit shortsighted to have profit as the only motivating factor. Business can play a major role in environmental sustainability. Profit and principle are not mutually exclusive. Imagine the impact of including environmental issues and profits in your strategic planning, corporate culture, values, and public relations and/or marketing.
Light bulbs are not glamorous. They do not evoke the same passion as automobiles, religion, oil and grandchildren. Light bulbs, however, have enormous potential to significantly change our energy consumption. See "A Really Good Idea" by Charles Fishman in FAST COMPANY, September 2006.
The retail giant, Wal-Mart, intends to brand itself as an environmental activist. Fishman explains that Wal-Mart's goal is to change the energy consumption in the United States by selling its 100 million regular customers one compact fluorescent light bulb (or CFL) in the next twelve months. By switching from incandescent bulbs to CFLs in ceiling fan displays in 3,000 stores, Wal-Mart can save $6 million annually in electric bills. Not only does it make good business sense; it is an environmentally responsible strategy. Profit and principle are synergistically working for Wal-Mart.
You are going to buy light bulbs. Why not convert to CFLs? You save time because you are not replacing a bulb every whip stitch. They last from five to ten years. You save money on your electric bills. These light bulbs pay for themselves in lowered electric bills even though they can cost up to ten times more than an incandescent bulb. Because of the small amount of mercury in them, CFLs do require care in disposing of them.
Use this calculator to see how long it would take you to recoup your investment in CFLs in your home or office.
ENERGY STAR, a joint program of the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the United States Department of Energy, calculates that if every American household changed its five highest-use fixtures to ENERGY STAR qualified lighting:
1. We would save more than 800 billion kWh of energy and keep more than one trillion pounds of greenhouse gases out of our air.
2. National annual energy savings would be equivalent to the annual output of more than 20 power plants, or the equivalent in air pollution to removing more than 8 million cars from the road.
3. Americans would collectively save more than $6 billion every year in energy costs.
Yes, we have a problem. With one small change in your energy consumption, you can make a giant difference. Are you willing to change your environmental footprint? "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."