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Shine Your Light Now

6/9/2005 12:00:00 AM

Tags: lighting

I just returned from Cleveland, where I helped judge the 2005 Lighting for Tomorrow competition, sponsored by the American Lighting Association, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Consortium for Energy Efficiency. I’m sworn to secrecy about the winners, which will be announced at the September ALA conference in Miami, but I can share a couple of general insights that I took away from the event.

Grand Prize Winner, 2004 Lighting for Tomorrow competition 

Technical Innovation Award, 2004 Lighting for Tomorrow competition 

First, that the competition even exists is exciting. We judges were charged with doling out $60,000 in prize money and an invaluable amount of promotion to the winners, exemplary high-efficiency residential fixtures that use up to two-thirds less electricity than standard incandescents. The contest’s ultimate goal is to stimulate market acceptance and awareness of energy-efficient lighting. How cool is that?

Designers and homeowners often complain about the paltry choices in energy-efficient lighting today. This seems to be an area of green design that just hasn’t quite kept up with the tremendous blossoming that’s happening elsewhere, and the opportunity for growth is extraordinary. It was so great to walk into the room where all the entries hung on walls and from ceilings—a tangle of what’s possible. What I really had to come to terms with, though, was how ordinary this tangible manifestation of the future looked. This is not “lighting for tomorrow,” I (and several other judges) huffed. It was lighting for today—the kind of stuff that regular Joes are choosing for their homes, with that added bonus of energy savings.

In terms of one of the major criteria we judges were using—potential market impact (attractiveness, value, and marketability)—the fixtures really shined. The magazine editor in me, though, couldn’t get completely enrolled in the lights as sexy, ooh-and-ah materials. The developer among us pointed out that he would purchase many of them for his tract housing—and I realize how important that is. His company, after all, has the reach that makes a difference . . . imagine the impact of fixtures that use two-thirds less energy multiplied across thousands of houses. Still, the idealist in me wanted to see truly futuristic innovations that made the best use of compact fluorescent and LED technology rather than retrofitting it into fixtures that look just like the fixtures we use now.

And here’s the issue that I keep bumping into again and again and again—whether I’m choosing houses to feature in Natural Home & Garden or shopping for my own home. Is it better to push less exciting green products and materials that more Americans are likely to adapt and bring into their houses? Yes, my practical mind tells me—that will make the greatest impact. But isn’t there also a place for cutting-edge, over-the-top sustainable design and technology? Please, my romantic mind begs, tell me that there is . . .

Here are more of last year's winners of the Lighting for Tomorrow competition.

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