The “Green Movement” has begun to surge in the United States. If in doubt, pick up your local newspaper or listen to the nightly news. Each day brings new stories of global warming, the rising costs of energy, the need to develop more environmentally friendly technologies and the necessity to use existing resources more effectively and efficiently.

In addition, once only a voluntary movement driven by the consciences of eco-minded individuals, the government in recent years has also joined the green effort with the adoption of several new initiatives. Driven by the success of California's Title 24 regulations for “Energy Efficiency for Residential & Nonresidential Buildings,” other lighting and appliance efficiency regulations went into effect on Jan. 1, 2008 in Arizona, Connecticut, Oregon, Massachusetts, New Jersey and Washington. In the short term, additional state regulations are also possible after the governors of Minnesota, Wisconsin and four other states meet in early 2008 to discuss a Midwestern strategy for boosting renewable energy and tackling global warming.

The federal government also enacted legislation late last year when President Bush signed The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007. In addition to setting new energy-efficiency standards for appliances and passenger cars, the bill also set into law new mandates regarding the use of light bulbs in the United States. This includes requirements by 2012 to 2014 for the use of light bulbs that generate 25 to 30 percent less energy than today's most common incandescent bulbs. In 2020, these regulations will increase once again to ensure even steeper savings by demanding that light bulbs deliver 60 percent less energy than today's products.

The benefits of energy-efficient lighting

Why should American consumers be so concerned with lighting? According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), if every American home replaced just one light bulb with an energy-efficient bulb, the nation would save enough energy to light more than three million homes for a year, save more than $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of more than 800,000 cars.

In addition, the energy used in the average home can be responsible for more than twice the greenhouse gas emissions of the average car. So, when consumers use less energy at home, they can reduce greenhouse gas emissions from power plants, while helping to protect the environment from the risks of global climate change.

As a result, the American public and building managers alike are responding to the environmental message by purchasing energy-efficient bulbs that last 10 times longer than traditional ones and fixtures that can trim lighting bills by 75 percent.

New lighting technology advancements

Now available at varying price points that can entice nearly any homeowner or facilities manager, energy-efficient lighting has become an ideal option for consumers and communities concerned with rising energy costs and the continued depletion of natural resources. As a result, the consumers that know the most about the many economical, performance and societal advantages presented by energy-efficient lighting can prove to be the best customers in the short- and long-term.

But first, today's distributors and showrooms need to disregard old prejudices against energy-efficient lighting because the latest fixtures hold little resemblance to the fluorescent lighting in your grandmother's kitchen. No longer the utilitarian fluorescent light fixtures that flicker and hum, today's Energy Star-qualified lighting fixtures offer instant starting, warm color and light output equal to their incandescent counterparts, and are available in a variety of styles and finishes. They also require less-frequent bulb changes and offer substantially reduced heat gain, which makes them cooler to the touch and makes it easier to maintain a comfortable room temperature.

However, users should also remember that not all fluorescent products are created equal. Some may provide substandard color, starting and efficiency. That's why distributors and consumers should only select energy-efficient products that bear the Energy Star logo. Professionals who partner with manufacturers that offer Energy Star-labeled products ensure the distribution of advanced fluorescent lighting technologies and fixture styles that deliver equal or better quality than their traditional incandescent counterparts.

The Energy Star mark is only awarded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to lighting products that meet rigorous performance specifications regarding efficacy, color rendition and operating temperature. According to the EPA, Energy Star-qualified lighting offers the following selling points:

  • Uses up to 75 percent less energy than traditional lighting products without sacrificing quality;

  • Generates 78 percent less heat than standard incandescent lighting, which can translate into cooler rooms during summer months and additional savings on utility costs for air conditioning;

  • Uses bulbs that last at least 10,000 hours compared to typical incandescent bulbs that last approximately 750 hours to 1,000 hours. Thus, Energy Star-qualified fixtures used for an average of three hours per day will not require bulb changes for at least eight years, substantially reducing the nuisance of buying, stocking and changing new bulbs;

  • Comes with a two-year manufacturer's warranty.

More stylish energy-efficient lighting alternatives

Equally important to today's consumers is style and design. Unfortunately, many homeowners still associate energy efficiency with the mundane designs of yesterday. The fact is that the lighting industry has worked diligently with the Energy Star program to produce hundreds of indoor and outdoor energy-efficient lighting fixtures that are as stylish as their traditional counterparts. A two-time winner of the Energy Star Partner of the Year program and the recipient of the 2007 Energy Star Sustained Excellence Award, Sea Gull Lighting., Riverside, N.J., manufactures more than 450 Energy Star-qualified lighting fixtures in a wide array of styles and finishes.

Every moment counts

As we near the next decade, energy efficiency will play a bigger role in our lives. Rising energy costs, the desire for a cleaner, safer planet and new legislation are among the many influences that will likely guide our decisions.

New technologies are also likely to advance alongside demand, addressing our needs to make the necessary sacrifices more palatable and in many cases truly seamless. Lighting presents just one of the many important examples of a technology rapidly evolving to meet the changing world and the desires of consumers to reduce energy bills while actively working to preserve our planet.

In August 2008, for instance, single-piece (lamp and ballast together) compact fluorescent lamps with GU-24 bases will become eligible to earn the Energy Star mark. This technology makes it possible for many decorative fixtures to easily use pin-based replaceable lamps and ballasts, as required by the Energy Star technical specifications.

Distributors and showrooms should partner with leading manufacturers not only to market the latest lighting technologies, but also to stay at the informational forefront of this evolution. The numerous benefits to distributors, consumers and the environment are likely to include smarter, more knowledgeable customers that respect your insights and return repeatedly for the purchase of products that can help reduce energy costs and the release of greenhouse gases.

As the director of Sea Gull Lighting's Energy-Efficient Products Group in Riverside, N.J., Paul Vrabel is responsible for sales and marketing and assists in the development of the company's energy-efficient products category, including more than 450 Energy Star-qualified models. For the past 14 years, Vrabel has dedicated his professional life to furthering the application of high-quality, energy-efficient technologies for use in both the residential and commercial lighting marketplaces. He is Lighting Certified by the National Council on Qualifications for the Lighting Professions.