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CFL juggernaut rolls on

With Wal-Mart Stores’ announcement early in October that it had already surpassed its goal of selling 100 million compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs by the end of 2007, the home improvement industry showed that sustainability programs were more than just talk. The achievement was evidence that green means business, literally.

Neither the relative initial expense of the new bulbs nor the inconvenient fact that CFLs contain trace amounts of mercury could derail the world’s largest retailer’s ambitious effort to blow them off the shelves and into American homes, where they are saving massive amounts of energy.

“We are grateful that our customers and members have seen the economic and environmental benefits of CFLs,” said Andy Barron, Wal-Mart’s senior vp-hardlines. “With their support, we can continue to have a positive impact on the environment with energy-saving bulbs and other affordable, eco-friendly products,” he added.

The CFL goal was just one step in the company’s Sustainability 360 approach toward becoming more “green.” The company said the five states with the top CFL sales were Texas, Florida, California, Illinois and Ohio.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer’s announcement came earlier this month, just prior to the Environmental Protection Agency’s Energy Star Change a Light Day, an extension of the EPA’s Change a Light pledge campaign.

Before that, Wal-Mart announced a partnership with the Carbon Disclosure Project in September to monitor the energy usage of the stores supply chain. Using the CDP measurement, the company will implement a pilot program with its suppliers to improve energy efficiency throughout the process.

“This is an important first step toward reaching our goal of removing non-renewable energy from the products Wal-Mart sells,” said John Fleming, executive vp and chief merchandising officer.

But Wal-Mart is not the only big box that’s turning its focus toward green, especially in the direction of CFLs.

Home Depot launched its Eco Options program earlier this year. The program highlights the products sold by Home Depot that are eco friendly, including woods, insecticides, programmable thermostats and CFL bulbs. The company sold more than 50 million CFL bulbs in 2006.

"CFL bulbs continue to be an important part of our light bulb transactions with sales spiking around events such as Earth Day and increases in utility costs,” said Jerry Shields, a Home Depot spokesman.

“Customers make spending decisions based on environmental impact, but they are also buying CFLs to save money," he added.

It’s not just the big boxes that are lighting up sales with CFLs. CFL bulbs are Ace Hardware’s fastest growing category, showing a 200 percent growth in 2007, according to Santo Lee, Ace buyer for electrical. Lee added that CFLs account for 25 percent of the bulbs sold across Ace stores.

“They’re a tremendous growth for us,” he said.

Lee attributes this growth to consumers increased awareness of the product. “This is now widespread throughout the U.S.,” he said.

For more on CFLs and the impact they’ve had on the home improvement industry, read the Oct. 22 issue of Home Channel News. For subscription information, click here.

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