Responsible Purchasing Network

Lighting: Overview

View the presentations from the November 5th RPN webinar: Fluorescent Lighting.

Welcome to the Responsible Purchasing Guide for Lighting. This guide covers fluorescent lamps, including compact fluorescent bulbs, ballasts and tubes and outlines best practices for a responsible lighting system.

Below we provide an overview of each section of the Guide: Social & Environmental Issues; Best Practices; Cost, Quality & Supply; Policies; Specifications; Standards; Products; Calculator; Handy Facts; Definitions; and Credits & Endnotes.

Social & Environmental Issues

The social & environmental issues section address impacts of lighting on energy, climate change, air pollution, and workers. Generating electricity for the United States’ lighting requires the equivalent of one hundred large power plants and releases more than 553 million tons of carbon dioxide. That energy use is linked to global climate change, air pollution and mining fatalities. Beyond the energy implications, lighting products are manufactured with persistent bioaccumulative toxins, like lead and mercury, and produce tons of hazardous and solid waste at the end of their lives.  Social responsibility implications affect the workers who manufacture the lamps and those who work under the lights. Effectively managing an institution’s lighting program and purchasing energy efficient and less-toxic lighting equipment saves money, reduces environmental impacts, and improves conditions for workers.

Best Practices

The best practices section outlines how to form a dedicated team that will gather data on current consumption and impacts, set reductions goals, adopt a policy, evaluate standards and draft bid specifications.  Best practices for a successful lighting program also includes management strategies such as using natural lighting and light wall finishes to conserve energy; reducing eye strain to improve worker satisfaction and consequently raise productivity; and establishing recycling and take-back programs to prevent the release of PBTs like lead and mercury into the environment.

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Cost, Quality & Supply

The cost, quality, & supply section demonstrates how CFLs are typically reliable, cost-effective, and widely available.  Because of the long life of CFLs, buyers need to purchaser fewer bulbs, which use less energy than conventional incandescents.  Often rebates from local utilities can offset the initial cost premium of CFLs and because of their superior efficiency, CFLs pay back their higher purchase price in just a few months. Besides having a useful lifespan of up to 15,000 hours, current models silently produce smooth light output at a pleasant color rendition index (CRI).  Over 2000 ENERGY STAR rated products are available on the market, including some that are low-mercury or lead-free. CFLs come in a variety of sizes and shapes and for a variety of applications.  ENERGY STAR qualified models designed for dimming, outdoor fixtures, and enclosed fixtures are now available.  This section also discusses the advantages of pin-based over screw-based CFLs and more generally compares CFLs and linear fluorescent lamps.


The policies section includes a model policy created by RPN and the Green Purchasing Institute that includes provisions on energy conservation and efficiency, PBTs including lead and mercury, supplier mercury content disclosure, and lamp recycling.  Additional examples from federal, state, county, cities and universities are also covered here.


The specifications section provides examples of contract language from a variety of institutions. Bid solicitations should include require for ENERGY STAR qualification, lamp life greater than 10,000 hours, mercury and lead content disclosure and restrictions, verification of automatic dosing techniques and sweat-free operations in manufacturing, and take-back provisions.


The standards section recommends three environmental standards for CFLs: ENERGY STAR for CFLs, EcoLogo’s CCD-014, and Green Seal’s GS-5. The ENERGY STAR standard covers energy efficiency but not mercury limits, whereas the CCD-014 requires a six milligram mercury limit in addition to the ENERGY STAR standards. GS-5 covers mercury content and efficiency standards but is under revision and is expected to be reissued in March 2008. No products are certified under CCD-014 or GS-5 as of October 2007. Other standards covered in this section include the European Union’s restriction on hazardous substances, which sets a 5 milligram cap for mercury in CFLs and the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED rating system, which covers energy efficiency, mercury reduction and daylighting.


There are over 2000 ENERGY STAR qualified CFL products available. Before searching the RPN online database of certified products, review these guidelines on choosing the right CFLs.

1. Determine light output needed.
2. Make sure the CFL is ENERGY STAR-qualified.
3. Choose the CFL with the highest efficacy in the shape and size you want.
4. Look for long-lasting CFLs.
5. Specify low-mercury CFLs.
6. Look for lead-free CFLs.
7. Ask lamp manufacturers and vendors to offer collection and recycling services.


The calculator section contains tools from ENERGY STAR and two CFL manufacturers that allow users to measure the impact of institutional lighting in terms of cost savings and mercury content.

Handy Facts

The handy facts section provides a referenced set of facts and findings pertaining to office lighting.


The definitions section provides a glossary of terms used throughout the Guide.

Credits & Endnotes

The credits & endnotes section lists the people responsible for writing, reviewing, and editing this Guide along with a listing of sources referenced.

Creative Commons License This work by the Responsible Purchasing Network is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.