Alum Honored for Light Bulb Research

Humboldt State University sociology alumnus Lou Jacobson (Master’s, 2008), an energy specialist with the Redwood Coast Energy Authority, will be honored at ceremonies in San Francisco August 10 for outstanding research in barriers to student use of Compact Fluorescent Light Bulbs.

Jacobson will receive the 2009 Robert Dentler Award for Outstanding Student Achievement for his master’s thesis: "Anthropogenic Carbon Dioxide Mitigation: The Social Barriers to the Diffusion of the Compact Fluorescent Light Bulb." The $200 award is given by the American Sociological Association Section on Sociological Practice and Public Sociology.

Jacobson’s study explored the barriers to HSU student use of CFL bulbs, which offer a cost effective way to mitigate human-generated greenhouse gas through reducing net electricity use. His study used an online survey model reaching a randomly selected sample of 916 students.

“As in other studies, HSU students reported that product factors like cost, toxicity, compatibility, flickering, humming, brightness and color quality were deterrents to CFL use,” Jacobson said. “Many of these actually were problems of early CFL technology. Yet even though we’ve improved the CFL, the beliefs still hold back people from giving it a try.”

Among his findings about beliefs: spiritual, atheist and agnostic students were more likely to adopt CFLs than Christian and Protestant students. Politically liberal students were more likely to use CFLs than those who defined themselves as more conservative.

Jacobson researched factors other than quality and cost, including shopping patterns, opinion leadership, risk perception, meaning association and gender. “These need more study,” he said. “I’m particularly interested in understanding why male students were more likely to adopt the CFL than female students.”

Before graduation in 2008, Jacobson had already accepted a position with the RCEA. According to Dana Boudreau, RCEA operations manager, “As Lou interviewed alongside the usual environmental and engineering candidates, we realized that his sociology background and mindset could be a powerful addition to our organization. Risk perception, peer involvement and worldview had been subjectively and haphazardly considered before Lou's arrival, but now we can explicitly build this capacity into our analysis and decision-making process.”

Boudreau added, “With a passion for social well-being and a pragmatic focus on sustainable practices, Lou Jacobson ensures that we keep our priorities straight and follow a well-reasoned path towards success."

Augie Diana, chair of the ASA Section Awards Committee, said, “Lou’s work is unique in that it integrates more complex sociological concepts like ‘worldview’ in building an adoption model. We were all impressed by his ability to link sociological theory so artfully with a very real and pressing problem like understanding energy choices.”

Jacobson will receive his award Monday, August 10, at the annual association meeting, hosted this year in San Francisco. His thesis is available through the Humboldt Digital Scholar at