The TH Interview: Lawrence Bender on

Not content with co-producing An Inconvenient Truth, Lawrence Bender (who also happens to have produced Kill Bill Vol. 1 and Vol. 2, Good Will Hunting, Pulp Fiction, Anna and the King, Jackie Brown, and Reservoir Dogs) really does want to change the world. He is the founder of 18Seconds, a campaign we featured here, which is focused on empowering the individual to take an easy step toward energy efficiency - switch just one incandescent bulb for an energy-saving compact fluorescent light bulb. The campaign has brought together major retailers, celebrities, internet providers and environmental groups, and is aiming to harness the power of friendly competition and civic pride to bring about real, lasting environmental change in America. In this interview he tells Treehugger how 18Seconds came about, how the campaign works, and why he believes it can lead to a significant shift in environmental consciousness.

TH: How did the 18seconds project come about, and what are its goals?

Lawrence Bender: I was having lunch with Amy Iorio, general manager of Yahoo! News to discuss how we could work together. She told me about Yahoo's new interactive map. She had been thinking of ways to "green" America by getting individuals to connect through Yahoo's new technology. So I pitched her this create a feedback mechanism. Every time somebody bought a CFL, they would be able to go to this site and see how many CFLs were bought, plus how much money, energy, and CO2 gasses were saved in their area. I brought the idea to Wal-Mart, which quickly embraced it as part of its own CFL awareness campaign. The campaign later expanded to include government agencies (DOE, EPA), AC Nielsen and Environmental Defense. Many others have joined the 18Seconds network and will continue to join.

We believe the CFL is the Trojan horse into the minds of the American public — once you get somebody who feels good about making a difference and at the same time saving money, you have them thinking what else can they do. Our goal is to empower individuals and get them to take action. We want to educate consumers about both the cost savings and environmental benefits of purchasing ENERGY STAR qualified CFLs over incandescent bulbs, and to motivate Americans to make the switch.

TH: Who are the main players behind 18 seconds?

LB: Charter members include myself, Yahoo!, Wal-Mart, AC Nielsen, the EPA, the Department of Energy, and Environmental Defense. Also, we presented at the U.S. Conference of Mayors 75th Winter Meeting in Washington, D.C. So far mayors of at least 12 cities have committed to supporting by launching campaigns in their respective cities.

TH: How are the statistics compiled?

LB: AC Nielsen currently receives sales data from most grocery store, drug and mass merchandise retailers, and is in the process of modeling the remaining sales data. At this time, the data does not reflect most DIY (hardware) retail sales. As more large retailers decide to participate over the coming months, additional data will be added to improve the accuracy of the figures, allowing the site to become even more valuable to consumers and grassroots organizers.

Sales data has been provided for use by this site at the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) level, which is defined by the A.C. Nielsen Company as an area having a core city of at least 50,000 inhabitants within its corporate limits, or an urbanized area of at least 50,000 inhabitants, with a total population of at least 100,000.

TH: Are there plans to expand 18seconds beyond the web-presence, for example by taking energy efficiency education into schools etc?

LB: We are hopeful that the mission of 18Seconds will be embraced by groups of all kinds, from elected officials to grassroots organizations, who will use this tool to start their own campaigns. We hope they will adopt and promote it to their respective constituencies. We will be doing Public Service Announcements and using viral Internet tactics, but our hope was to make this a decentralized campaign, so that schools, officials, etc, could really take the idea and make it their own.

TH: The website does mention other forms of fossil fuel use and energy consumption i.e. transport. Will there be more to 18seconds than CFL promotion?

LB: As I mentioned, we believe strongly that the CFL is the Trojan horse into the minds of Americans — a first step in motivating people to be part of the solution to global warming. The campaign's goal is to motivate every American to switch to just one energy-efficient bulb, demonstrating that small individual actions can add up to significant environmental impact. We hope and believe that this will have a snowball effect in encouraging consumers to purchase other environmentally friendly products (e.g. a refrigerator, organic cotton, local foods, etc.) when they realize they can benefit directly AND help the planet.

TH: 18Seconds clearly plays on people's desire to lead. How important is the role of competition, and civic pride, in engaging people in environmental action?

LB: We believe that by engaging mayors, civic leaders, and local communities, and challenging them to friendly competitions, we can inspire local responsibility and individual change. The website is a great tool that then allows communities to see how they compare to others.

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