Last week I went down to Raleigh, North Carolina, to be a judge for the energy-efficient lighting design competition Lighting for Tomorrow. It was really interesting and kind of humorous, considering my lack of knowledge of the technical side of this business. Aside from one other magazine editor, most of the other judges were real lighting experts...not me. When they were talking about the mechanisms making a certain bulb work in a certain way, I was thinking “that one is pretty and really low energy!”. But the organizers want a broad range of judges for a reason—while the other judges were looking at these lights from an insider's perspective, my point of view was definitely closer to a potential customer's.
I got to see a lot of interesting stuff while I was there. All the contestants were highly energy efficient (being Energy Star compliant is a minimum requirement for entry). There is a category for CFLs and a category for LEDs; some were dimmable and many could be made dimmable if installed properly. It was interesting that many of the fixtures were very conventional looking—very much your run-of-the-mill light. The manufacturers (well, the winners, at least) had worked hard to create lights with the tone and appearance of conventional lights. These lights didn’t look any different than the fixtures you’re accustomed to seeing for incandescent bulbs. And when they were on, they still didn’t look any different. A few still had the stereotypical poor qualities long (and somewhat falsely) associated with alternative light sources: glare, a blue or green cast, or low light output. But the majority looked great, showed colors clearly and were indistinguishable from their conventional counterparts. It really drove home the point that people no longer view the "energy efficient" category as a fringe or specialty subgroup. These are the lights that are going to be in Home Depot, in Lowe’s, in Target. And they’re using new forms of light that would have been considered revolutionary just a few years ago.
One thing was very disappointing, however: Not one single fixture used sustainable materials in the construction of the lamp and shade. They were all highly efficient, yes, but where were those lighting manufacturers creating gorgeous pieces with natural fibers, recycled materials, salvaged and reclaimed items? I was shocked not to find any, and all of the judges commented on it. A light that used sustainable materials would have been so over-and-above and garnered so many bonus points from the judges, it surely would have been a winner. So I encourage all of our eco-friendly lighting makers out there to enter this competition for next year and I encourage all of the more conventional companies to think outside the energy-efficiency box. Next year, if I’m lucky enough to participate again, I hope that amazing, contemporary-looking LED ceiling fan that we awarded this year is made with bamboo or SFC-certified wood. I hope those beautiful metal and glass indoor fixtures incorporate recycled materials. I will make sure to post the winners here when they are announced in a few months so you all can check them out. In the meantime, here are some efficient AND eco-friendly light makers for you to check out if you're in the market:
Rocky Mountain Hardware: fixtures made with 100 percent recycled bronze and sustainable business practices
Lightlink Lighting: artistic fixtures made with handmade Thai paper
Eco-Lights: offers a wide variety of energy-efficient fixtures made with recycled, reused and sustainable materials
BuyGreen.com: offers a wide variety of fixtures, too. Check out this one made of recycled chopsticks!