Alumni Profile • Brian Huyser '91
Changing the world, one lightbulb at a time

Brian Huyser On a Sunday night in the summer of 2006, Brian Huyser ’91 was dozing in front of a Discovery Channel documentary on global warming when he woke up to hear the narrator say, “If each family switched out one [incandescent] bulb for a compact fluorescent lightbulb, it would be the equivalent of taking 1 million cars off the road.”

Huyser wasn’t sure what compact fluorescent lightbulbs (CFLs) were. Whatever they were, they seemed too good to be true. But he was intrigued.

The next morning the Boston, Mass., software entrepreneur woke up with an idea for a Web site, one that would try to motivate people to change their lightbulbs—if what he’d heard turned out to be true.

“After a bit of research, the economic and environmental benefits of CFLs seemed clear,” Huyser said. “CFLs, which are lightbulb-sized, spiral-shaped versions of the long fluorescent tubes, use up to 75 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs, and they can last up to 10 years. That means you can save as much as $89 over the life of one 100-watt bulb, depending on the cost of electricity in your area and your usage patterns. And because it requires that less energy be generated, that one bulb can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the air by as much as 156 pounds.”

Huyser began to imagine the benefits if every household switched one bulb—or more.

One Billion Bulbs” is the Web site that he, with the help of his employees at Symmetric Technologies, launched in December 2006. Visitors to the site can calculate how many dollars they would save and pounds of carbon dioxide emissions they would cut by installing two, five or any number of bulbs. And they can see how the number of bulbs already changed by people around the world is affecting pocketbooks and the environment. For example, by early October, 7,277 visitors to the site reported they had changed 100,735 bulbs, saving them collectively $1,174,657 a year and reducing pollution by 13,884,329 pounds of carbon dioxide annually. That’s the equivalent of 1,201 cars taken off the road.

Imagine the impact if 1 billion bulbs were replaced.

“We intentionally chose an ambitious goal,” Huyser said. “In a way, it’s absurdly ambitious. Our goal was to grab attention by articulating a goal so ambitious anybody would notice.”

In fact, Huyser continued, he and his colleagues designed the Web site to appeal to anybody, regardless of political leaning or past involvement in environmental issues. “We wanted to say, ‘Whether you care most about saving money or saving the environment, here’s a simple thing you can do.’”

Even if the site doesn’t reach the billion-bulbs-changed benchmark, Huyser knows there are other ways of counting its success. “Changing a lightbulb is a first step. It makes you aware of the issues and of other, larger changes you might make. That’s certainly been true for me.”

Shortly after being interviewed on National Public Radio about One Billion Bulbs, Huyser was approached by, and, in April, sold control of the site to, a large Internet media company. “I decided they had a lot more resources to bring the idea to a mass audience,” he said.

Though no longer involved with One Billion Bulbs, Huyser said his wish to use his talents in some larger purpose remains. “My desire is for God to use me and my company to be a blessing to others.”