September 29, 2008 at 9:54AM
by Alexandra Zissu
When I was growing up, my mother was always after family members to turn off lights in rooms they weren't using. It's a common sense policy I'm pleased she nagged into me; now it's second nature. Last week I was having (Irving Farm) coffee with a green leaning architect, Julie Torres Moskowitz , who contributed an essay about building a nontoxic nursery to The Complete Organic Pregnancy at one of my favorite green leaning local spots, The City Bakery. As we caught each other up on our latest projects, and chatted about the overabundance of greenwashing, especially in the building supply arena, a bakery worker with a tray full of votive candles walked around the space, placing one on every table. It was seriously odd - not only have I never seen candles at The City Bakery, it was 10:30 in the morning. We half-joked about the economy being so bad that they had to resort to flames instead of electricity. Our conversation shifted for a while, and I forgot about the candles until suddenly the lights went out and the candle-toting server wooshed by lighting wicks.
Curious, I asked what was going on. Apparently The City Bakery turns off the lights every once in a while for an hour to save electricity, and, I gather, to make a point. The cash register and the coffee machines, of course, were still on. It felt a bit silly to be sitting there with candles - there was enough light coming in through the windows that we could see just fine with the lights off. And the votives weren't really illuminating much. But the experience got me thinking about how much can be saved by little, crucial every day gestures. I'm not really sure how much energy they're saving by doing this for sixty minutes every so often. But what if all of New York City agreed to throw the switch an hour a day once a week? Obviously certain places, like hospitals, or things like stoplights, wouldn't go dark. But still, what if? Or what if businesses required officeworkers with windows and ample daylight to leave their lights off until the sun shifted. (Don't even get me started on how most of these places leave their lights on all night long. How is this allowed!?)
For many years, I never turned the lights on at home until it grew so dark I truly couldn't see. I always have artificial light glowing from my computer and find natural light soothing, conducive to work. I've changed my ways somewhat since having a kid -- it feels wrong to keep her in the dark as she plays. But on the one day a week she's with her grandmother and I stay at home and write, I turn off the lights the minute they leave for their adventures. Hopefully more than a few City Bakery devotes left their dimmed space that day determined to act similarly in their own homes and offices. Maybe some took it a step further and looked beyond their lights to find other easy ways to save energy daily. It's a good lesson for the kids.