A major change is on the horizon when it comes to the light sources we use to illuminate our homes. In 2012, 100W incandescent A-lamps will no longer be available for retail sale. Then, 75W lamps go out of production in 2013. By 2014, the manufacture of 40W and 60W lamps will be completely suspended. Currently, consumers are completely unprepared, and research by manufacturers confirms this. A recent study from GE Lighting reveals that nearly 77 percent of consumers do not know that federal legislation, as outlined in the 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act, will ban the manufacture of the incandescent light bulb starting in 2012.

With such an important change, you would think that consumer education initiatives would be well under way—but they are not. Although the Department of Energy (DOE) is mandated by the legislation to create and run consumer awareness campaigns, they only just announced (in mid July) their plans to start thinking about what these consumer education initiatives will entail. Even more shocking, although probably not a surprise, is the fact that the DOE is not practicing what it preaches. As reported in The New York Times' Green blog, an audit by the department's inspector general, released at the beginning of July, revealed that across the 24 sites it operates, the department is still buying incandescent lamps. How embarrassing!

And it's not only at the consumer level that changes to light sources are going unnoticed by decision makers and purchasers. On July 1, 2010, it became illegal to manufacture or import T12 magnetic replacement ballasts. However, according to the National Lighting Bureau (NLB), while the phaseout of T12 magnetic ballasts in new lighting fixtures has been ongoing for the past several years, 500 million T12 lamps are still in use. As the NLB reports, there is even a “cash-for-clunkers”-type program in place, but not enough owners of commercial buildings know about it and are taking advantage of it. So they have been missing out on potential tax deductions, not to mention the savings they would be getting to their energy use and operating costs.

Building owners have two options for replacing their lighting systems that use T12 lamps; switching to T8s or, even better, T5s. According to Mike Colotti, vice president, brand management and marketing communications for NLB sponsor Osram Sylvania, switching to T8s or T5s could save close to half of the $8 billion it costs to operate T12s. Also, these more-efficient lamps have lower mercury contents. Switching to T8s could cut mercury infiltration by 43 percent and a switch to T5s could cut mercury infiltration by 56 percent. These are not insignificant numbers.

Given this situation, there's a real opportunity for the lighting community to play the role of hero. Educating clients to make informed evaluations concerning their project's lighting has always been part of the lighting practitioner's responsibility. Now it's even more important, and the lighting design community is starting to take proactive steps when it comes to reaching out to decision and policy makers.

In June, the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD) partnered with the Illuminating Engineering Society and the American Lighting Association to issue a brochure titled “What's Your Quality of Light?” This was the first step in the IALD's campaign to inform decision and policy makers that lighting is not just a numbers game based on connected loads. Instead, it's a more complex assessment, one where human factors need to be weighed against architectural and energy considerations.

So where does that leave us? With an enormous need to focus education initiatives inside and outside of the lighting community. Every member of the lighting industry— designer and manufacturer alike—needs to speak with a single voice as we educate ourselves, our families, our friends, and our colleagues about these current and impending changes to the tools we use to light our homes, schools, and workplaces. We need to help everyone determine the best ideas—that image of a “proverbial” light bulb that we all know so well—to find the best replacement for the incandescent light bulb that will be leaving us very soon.