CFL distribution promotes climate change in baby steps

Rose Woodbury

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“Personally, the idea of doing something concrete and with my own hands that is both beneficial to local families and the earth was a lot more fulfilling than discussing ways to convince politicians to start caring,” said senior Natalie Popovich of the compact fluorescent light bulb distribution project, the inaugural venture of a new campus group working to promote efficient energy use and environmental health.

The project is the first major undertaking of E-Justice, a subgroup of Campus Climate Challenge co-founded in 2009 by Popovich, seniors Lisa Curtis and Tyler Harvey and junior Elli Matkin. On March 7, the group leaders teamed up with 28 other Whitman students to travel door-to-door in local Walla Walla neighborhoods, asking residents if they could replace incandescent light bulbs with CFLs. Between this recent excursion and an earlier distribution run in January, E-Justice has installed CFLs in over 100 homes.

“The first house we went to, we were all a little anxious because it was a community we’d never been to before,” said sophomore Katie Radosevic, who will lead E-Justice next semester along with first-year Andrew Gordon. “We changed all the light bulbs in the house and [the family said], ‘You can’t leave, you have to stay for breakfast,’ and they gave us tacos and juice.”

Popovich explained that improving environmental conditions on a global level starts with personal interactions like the one Radosevic engaged in on her run. While replacing inefficient fluorescent light bulbs with CFLs cuts down on a household’s energy use, the method of installing the bulbs in person is important because it gives the residents a chance to learn about the goals and reasons behind the bulb swap.

“That tangible, physical action [of going into the home and installing the light bulb] is crucial to getting people personally invested in any cause,” Popovich said. “It encourages a lot more interaction and discussion with the families about what we’re doing and why.”

She added that the group was informed by research indicating that installing bulbs in person is more beneficial than other methods of distribution, like dropping off bulbs or providing bulbs for pick-up, because it enforces positive habits regarding energy use and better ensures the bulbs are installed correctly.

“We went by previous research that had determined that hand-installing the bulbs prevented the chance that people would forget to do it later . . . we could also be accountable for each bulb’s functionality, and assure that all the old incandescent bulbs were recycled,” Popovich said.

For Harvey, getting involved in the project provides a rare opportunity to see different walks of life and learn more about local residents’ experiences.

“For us Whitties, the chance to interact with people whose experience in Walla Walla is pretty darn different from ours and who we might otherwise miss in our four years here is a unique one, and the project offers community members smaller energy bills,” he said.

Radosevic agrees, commenting that the project not only benefits student volunteers but also benefits the community at large by helping residents become more receptive to the idea of making energy-conserving changes to their lifestyles.

“They were so welcoming and grateful to us,” she said of the first family they visited. “The project seems rewarding for all the people involved as well as for the environment.”