Green Technology

Environmental issues are not typically associated with maximizing the profits of big business. With the advent of LED-based solid-state lighting (SSL), however, companies and individuals can slash greenhouse-gas emissions while positively impacting the financial bottom line. Indeed, while LED lighting costs more than other technologies, savings in energy and maintenance costs more than cover the upfront premium. And with LED lighting dropping in price, SSL becomes more of a bargain every day.

Some green technologies have created more problems than they have solved. Ironically, the push for replacing incandescent light bulbs with lower-wattage compact-fluorescent lamps (CFLs) – thereby reducing consumption of electricity and the fossil fuels needed to produce it – brought its own set of environmental problems.

The supposedly green, environmentally-friendly CFLs contain mercury, albeit a small amount. However, if they are not handled or disposed of properly, CFLs can leach deadly compounds into the air and water supply, as well as contaminating landfills. A fact sheet about CFLs from the US Environmental Protection Agency notes that, “Exposure to mercury, a toxic metal, can affect our brain, spinal cord, kidneys and liver, causing symptoms such as trembling hands, memory loss, and difficulty moving.” It goes on to add that, “Mercury is released into our environment when products with mercury are broken, disposed of improperly, or incinerated. If you break a CFL, clean it up safely.”

Many states, cities and counties have outlawed the disposal of CFLs in the trash. Does anyone actually believe that CFLs survive intact in a landfill after a bulldozer has compacted the load into place? This assumes, of course, that a CFL actually arrives at a landfill in one piece.

LED lighting, conversely, is poised to deliver on energy savings with a positive environmental impact. With LEDs, businesses can reduce costs and not have to be concerned about proper disposal because the lights can be recycled.

Given the incredibly useful life of LEDs, recycling won’t happen very often. With a minimum life of 50,000 hours, LEDs last five times longer than their nearest competitors. When compared with incandescent lamps (average life of 2,000 hours) the disparity is even more remarkable. Given their solid-state circuitry, LEDs are very durable. It takes a lot more than accidentally dropping or hitting an LED light to render it inoperable.

One of the major advantages of LEDs is that they can be placed in hard-to-reach locations that are sometimes accessible only with special lifts or scaffolding. Once in place, it will be years before these lights will need to be changed. Often, businesses wait until the number of burned-out light bulbs reaches critical mass before making replacements. And then, usually, all of the bulbs, including those that are still working, are replaced at the same time. The longevity aspect of LEDs can save businesses thousands of dollars in maintenance costs, not to mention operating costs from reduced electricity usage.

The decrease in electricity usage can actually have a double benefit in some situations. LED lights are often eligible for rebates and other cash incentives provided by governmental agencies and public utilities, thereby greatly reducing their cost of ownership. Another economic advantage of LED lighting for businesses is that due to their long lives, the initial cost can be capitalized on a company’s balance sheet and depreciated over a period of five to ten years. This is an important feature for publicly-traded companies because it can significantly decrease operating costs which, of course, increases reported net income.

The reduction in energy use has another benefit. As less electricity must be produced, less coal must be burned in coal-fired power plants to supply that electricity. A significant amount of electricity produced in the United States comes from burning coal. This means that as less electricity is used, less coal is burned, and therefore less carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), sulfur dioxide, nitrous oxides, and mercury are emitted to the environment.

As a result, installation of LEDs leads to less pollution and a lower carbon footprint. LEDs are good for the environment and good for business.