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They've Seen the Light!

May 10, 2007 By:
Ryan Teitman
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From left) Sis Eisman, David Weisberg and Charlotte Lafair show off an inflatable version of energy-efficient bulbs for the Philadelphian. Photo by Jordan Cassway

Over at the 776 apartments of the Philadelphian -- across the street from the city's art museum -- a group of men and women has decided that they will lead the building's crusade for a greener tomorrow.

Residents began the "Philadelphian Goes Green" program shortly after a screening at the apartment house of An Inconvenient Truth, former vice president Al Gore's environmental documentary. More than 100 residents volunteered to put their homes on track toward more conscious living.

"A lot of us were inspired by the Al Gore film," said Charlotte Lafair, who's gotten deeply involved in the greening campaign.

Discussions about environmentalism have reached a crescendo in recent years, which has meant that people are now more concerned about conserving natural resources, as well as looking to conserve the resources in their pocketbooks.

The cost of energy hits home, said Lafair, 83. People are searching for ways to both "save money and save the planet."

The effort to make things greener at the Philadelphian is beginning with an overhaul of the building's lighting system. The lighting committee is leading the charge in replacing as many of the old, incandescent bulbs as possible with new, compact florescent bulbs.

"Lighting really took off and ran," said Sis Eisman, the campaign's chair. The improvements began last week, when a costumed Benjamin Franklin symbolically presented new light bulbs to the children of the apartment building -- a new generation of energy-saving bulbs for a new generation of residents.

At the forefront of this particular project is committee chair David Weisberg. With a 50-year background in the industry, the 80-year-old still has many contacts from his business days. He served as president of Progress Lighting in Philadelphia until 1981, when he started a marketing group for the lighting industry called Affiliated Distributors.

He knew that the Philips Company was at work engineering a compact florescent bulb, so he talked to friends there.

With nearly 800 apartments being lit, changing to a more energy-efficient bulb was a logical first step. The complex uses "literally many thousands of light bulbs," said Weisberg. Philips was interested in helping to get the program off the ground, and was willing to provide samples to start the ball rolling.

They sent reps who looked at the apartment configurations, and calculated that the Philadelphian could save as much as $100,000 per year.

"That's substantial," said Weisberg, "not just in dollar savings, but also in relation to the environment."

Older bulbs are "basically inefficient," he added. The filament of the bulb uses 75 percent of the electricity for generating heat, he explained, and the rest for light. "The technology has been there" for years in florescent bulbs, he explained, but recent developments have allowed them to be developed in a smaller size.

"It's the most cost-effective and the most long-lasting" step, said Eisman, 83, and it has the added benefit of being quickly and easily implemented. So far, 440 apartments have signed up to receive the new bulbs.

"There are many things we would love to have done," said Lafair, though in the same breath, she admitted that some are simply too expensive.

"We've come across good ideas that may not be cost effective yet," added Eisman, with "yet" being the operative word. As technology improves, costs may decrease, making other green programs financially viable, added the campaign chair.

However, some of the improvements that were beyond the committee's scope are being tackled as part of the building's current renovation. A more efficient heating system is being installed, along with more energy-friendly windows.

Eisman sees the program as primarily a tool for educating the residents. All the hard work will culminate in the production of a "Green Book," which will be distributed to every apartment. It will contain tips on how residents can stay environmentally conscious, and organizers involved with it promise that it will be updated regularly.

To bring the publication to fruition, 50 of the campaign's volunteers held a "green elephant" rummage sale, which raised more than $3,000 for the publication of the book.

Residents are becoming more and more aware of the actions they can take on a daily basis to help the environment along, added Eisman, such as using recyclable plastic and carrying tote bags when they go shopping rather than deciding at checkout time on paper or plastic.

It may not be much, but these folks insist it's the little things that count.

The program is also pushing education about energy-efficient appliances and water conservation. The goal is "for each individual person to do what they can do," said Eisman, while, at the same time, creating "a sense of enthusiasm and a sense of accomplishment."

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