As Congress Dithers Over Light Bulbs, AMF Bowls for Dollars

07/11/2011 02:23 pm ET | Updated Sep 10, 2011

While Congress debates the merits of light bulb standards, I decided to take my two daughters out for a little entertainment this weekend. It was a great time to escape the sweltering summer heat in DC, so I took them someplace where they could forget about the blast furnace beating down outside. Not a pool or a movie theater, but a bowling alley. That's right, bowling in the heat of the summer.

Truth is, I also had an ulterior motive. I was on a mission to see if the energy efficiency programs of AMF, the world’s largest chain of bowling centers, really worked as advertised. The company completed a major efficiency lighting retrofit last year at all of its 286 centers, replacing old fluorescent bulbs with more efficient lighting designed to save the company $3 million a year. That’s something even Thomas Edison would have crowed about.

In fact it worked so well, AMF decided to do more energy efficiency upgrades. So it contracted with Lime Energy to install a state of the art web based building automation system that monitors energy use at more than 100 bowling alleys, alerting managers to make money saving energy adjustments when something gets out of whack.

Those savings add up, according to company executives. “It’s very important for us to control energy costs since it’s our biggest cost after labor,” says Simon Shearer, AMF’s senior VP for facilities and design. “The return on investment has been greater than 50% for our lighting and energy monitoring systems. It’s met all our expectations and more.”

AMF's bowling center in College Park, MD            Photos: Rocky Kistner/NRDC

Shearer says the company initially was concerned that the new efficiency bulbs might change the lighting appearance. Instead, he says, the new lighting not only maintained the same light temperature and color, but each bulb was brighter so the company could use fewer of them and save money.

All this sounds great, but is it real? I put it to the acid test and took by kids to check it out. As we entered AMF’s College Park, MD, bowling center, it was a toasty 90 plus degrees on the street. But inside it was like a blast of cool mountain air. No sweat- soaked shirts in this environment. Kids’ birthday parties were in full swing up and down the lanes. Pins were flying, videos flashed and music blared as people high-fived or grimaced after their shots. All of the lanes were lit with brightly colored lights and occasionally the entire building would light up. It was like an indoor carnival, and the energy radiated on my kids’ faces.  

But the party even extends to the people paying the utility bills. Energy costs for them have been going down not up. Smart businesses like AMF are investing in energy efficiency to reduce their costs, cutting the need to build more polluting power plants. Department of Energy studies show homeowners save up to 75% energy savings by switching to new efficient light bulbs.

It’s a no brainer, according to AMF’s Simon Shearer, who says he gets calls nearly every day from other business asking whether energy savings work as advertised. That’s a question he's quick to answer. “Energy efficiency is a business initiative that keeps on giving.”


Bowling at AMF in College Park                               Photos: Rocky Kistner

Whether it’s better light bulbs or more efficient heating and air conditioning systems, energy saving measures help the bottom line for both businesses and homeowners. While some in Congress are using scare tactics to fight new lighting and energy efficiency standards, all you have to do is talk to the folks at AMF to find out the truth.

People do have a choice. They can stay the course and spend like it’s yesterday. Or they can invest in the new energy efficient technologies like AMF and save money for their future, creating new jobs in the process.  

Seems like AMF is bowling a strike on this one.