A Practical Approach to Selling CFL in Developing Countries

cfl vs. incandescentHow do you sell $2 CFL lightbulbs in Nicaragua, a country where the average monthly income is $60-$100? If you’re Llamadas Heladas, you do it by directly demonstrating the savings, and appealing to  their desire for reliable power. Let me back up. Nicaragua, especially in the rural areas, is a place that largely depends on generators for power. And it often goes out, due to various reasons, including too much power usage. People are quite price conscious there.

Putting those two together, Llamadas Heladas, a  company that offers among other things a phone booth on wheels, partnered up with TecnoSol, a local renewable energy company, to promote the use of CFLs during Earth Month. Yes month, they don’t mess around  down there. The joint campaign was called No Apagones. Basically, it’s reframing these lights to be a source of less blackouts, due to reduced energy use. They may cost four times a regular lightbulb, but they last 10 times as long, and use less energy, saving you both money and the headaches of power outages. A simple, compelling argument. Watch the video on their site. No Espanol needed, the message is clear.

$7 savings a year may not sound like much to those of us in the North, where there needs to be a greater emphasis on the macro, ecological benefits to convince people here. But there, that $7 is a much greater proportional financial impact. Multiply that times the number of lights they use, and it stands be a substantial amount.

In a move that we could learn from, they have a display that leaves no doubt as to the difference between CFL and regular incandescent lights: A side by side comparison, with power meters showing the amount used. A clear, irrefutable demonstration.

To further encourage purchases, the No Apagones site had a competition between counties, to see who bought the most light bulbs. Competition is often a great way to  encourage greater activity, and in this case, it seems to have worked. Their initial effort resulted in 1700 lights being purchased. Future plans for No Apagones are to partner with larger corporations, perhaps having them give CFLs to each employee.

Stay tuned for a future article on TecnoSol, which provides solar systems for $1000, and is apparently doing phenomenal business in a part of the world that most businesses would see as having too little income, and no interest in things such as renewable energy.

If you as a company shift your lens from one focused on people thinking primarily in terms of environmental benefits, or that you think people will hold on to the perception that it costs a lot, there’s a lot of room to appeal to people in these countries on a much more basic, practical level.

Readers: Where else do you see innovative and/or effective ways to sell renewable energy to the broader public?

Further Resources:

A Powerful Way to Help Your Fellow Entrepreneur on the Other Side of the Planet: Ecopreneurist

World Economic Forum Honors Social Entrepreneurs and Calls For Fast Reform : Ecopreneurist

Social Entrepreneurship is Growing : Green Options

About the Author

Paul Smith is a sustainable business innovator, the founder of GreenSmith Consulting, and has an MBA in Sustainable Management from Presidio School of Management in San Francisco. He creates interest in, conversations around, and business for green (and greening) companies, via social media. Who he has and wants to work with includes consumer, media, clean tech, NGOs, social ventures, and museums. For more on GreenSmith Consulting, see www.greensmithconsulting.com He also writes for Triple Pundit www.triplepundit.com
  • Congratulations, this could work anywhere!

  • Exactly. Their clear, relevant message makes the “what’s in it for me” unmissable.

  • dave

    CFLs are a toxic mercury nightmare. Why impose these on developing countries? It is likely because the manufacturer will profit, not that they are any better for the developing country. Why not promote LEDs. They are non-toxic, more efficient, and last 10 times longer than CFLs? Do the math. I think that you’ll save more with LEDs and not have the toxic nightmare of CFLs. Also the light from CFLs isn’t in the range that is good for your eyes. They produce a very harsh light. Stop promoting CFLs.

  • Hmm, sounds like we have someone here trying to catch the attention of search engines via repeated phrases, to perpetuate fear about CFLs.

    Having spoken to one of the people behind this campaign, a man who went to Nicaragua as a Peace Corps volunteer and has nothing but the most positive of intentions, I can say that your presumptions as to the manufacturer’s intent are incorrect.

    As for CFLs being a “toxic nightmare,” that is an overstatement. Read this article on the actual toxicity, and the possible effects, to see a more nuanced perspective. http://www.treehugger.com/files/2007/05/ask_treehugger_14.php

    I agree, LEDs are more efficient and have the possibility for better quality light. And at this point, they are quite expensive, even by developed world standards. To expect the rural poor of Nicaragua to make the leap from 50 cent incandescent lights to something many times that amount, more then the 4x CFL costs, is to ask too much. We in the US don’t currently do it, why would these people, who make $60-100/month, do it?

    When they become more on par with CFLs in pricing, then it’s a different conversation. But now, giving a way to save money, energy, and allow for people to have illumination at night when they may not have previously, is a step forward.

  • Hi Dave,

    I appreciate your concern for mercury that exists in CFL light bulbs, next year we hope to setup a recycling program to address this issue and avoid the low risk of mercury contaminating the environment.

    This campaign was ran by a chain of phone call shops and a solar company – neither with a significant economic interest in selling CFL light bulbs. We started this campaign to help out our Bottom of the Pyramid customers lower their energy bills and consumption which in turn helps their budget and prevents blackouts that frequently occur due to too much demand on our fragile energy grid.

    I hope this clears up any confusion about our intentions with this campaign and look forward to any advice in helping us setup a recycling campaign for the the CFLs while we wait for the price of LED bulbs to come down.

    Brian Forde
    Llamadas, S.A.
    Managua, Nicaragua