Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT ) may have had a bright idea when it began to push compact fluorescent (CFL) light bulbs a couple years back, but now Home Depot's (NYSE: HD ) come up with a brighter idea: Offering recycling drop-offs for the bulbs at all of its stores.
After all, as much as CFLs make a lot of sense in many regards -- they sap less energy and last for years -- there was a wee bit of a problem (and by wee, I mean "major"). They contain small amounts of hazardous mercury -- not something you're supposed to lackadaisically toss in the trash can.
Therefore, as much as CFLs may represent innovation and long-term thinking, the idea that consumers should buy them and worry about how to dispose of them later was, ironically, the epitome of short-term thinking.
Consumers have faced a quandary when it came to disposing of the light bulbs. Wal-Mart, for its part, has tried to offer ways for consumers to dispose of the bulbs, such as occasional "take-back" programs in some of its stores, according to a New York Times article. However, it hasn't got anything on a regular, national basis.
A couple of smaller retailers, such as IKEA and True Value, offer recycling services, but many consumers probably have to go well out of their way to find one of those stores or a local hazardous waste program.
It's been quite clear that both Wal-Mart and Home Depot have highlighted CFLs as proof that they can be part of the green revolution, and while they may never have the same clout as companies where that mission is engrained in the brand, like Whole Foods Market (Nasdaq: WFMI ) , these retailers have the massive footprints that can help to make some conservational products and initiatives mainstream. Home Depot even made the bulbs a marketing tool in April 2007.
Home Depot's decision to follow up on the CFLs could be a win for the retailer, since it should increase traffic to its stores, exposing many people to its wares, even beyond its regular customer base. (Also, since it made them a marketing tool, this is the right thing to do, too.) Although Home Depot still has a heck of a lot of turning around to do, even above and beyond its rivalry with retailers like Lowe's (NYSE: LOW ) , this move could be a strategic boon for luring in customers.