What Lighting Retailers Can Do to Help the Environment
April 4, 2012 - 4:03pm
Jeff Hiller of the Sustainable Furniture Council explains the role lighting plays in sustainability.

Residential Lighting: What is sustainability, and why is it important?

Jeff Hiller: Sustainability refers to the healthy balance between three important considerations: environmental concerns, social equity and our local economy. Environmental concerns have recently been front and center, and rightfully so. Global temperatures have risen 1.13 degrees since the Industrial Age, and that’s almost exclusively due to carbon dioxide emissions. The problem is real, dangerous and accelerating.

RL: How does lighting fit in?

JH: The single greatest cause of carbon dioxide emissions is the production of electricity at fossil-fuel-burning plants that primarily process coal. This accounts for 40 percent of emissions in the U.S. We are the single biggest producer of carbon emissions in the world, followed closely by China.

RL: What makes a fixture truly green?

JH: There are material considerations related to what the fixture is made out of and how it’s finished. Many lighting fixtures use aluminum, and there’s a wealth of recycled material available. Recycled aluminum uses only 5 percent of the energy used in new aluminum production.

As for finishes, polyurethane (PU) is common. PU is petroleum-based, but there are water-based finishes available that have the added benefit of very low volatile organic compounds (VOCs), toxic elements that create hazardous working environments.

The other major consideration is efficacy. Many manufacturers make [energy-efficient] fixtures, which significantly reduce energy consumption, and therefore, their overall carbon footprint.

RL: How can showrooms best market their green products?

JH: First, they must seek out, stock and educate their salesforce on fixtures featuring clearly defined eco-friendly materials and [energy-efficient technology.] They can enact energy-saving programs in their showrooms and announce them through in-store signage. They can also look into renewable energy sources and/or buy energy offsets that fund renewable energy development.

Using compact fluorescents [CFLs] in the showroom would be a huge help. CFLs use 75 percent less energy than incandescents, and they last up to seven years.

RL: What is “greenwashing”?

JH: It’s essentially making misleading claims about a product that imply it’s good for the environment [when it actually is not.]

RL: Is greenwashing that serious?

JH: Greenwashing is rampant. A recent independent study showed that 99 percent of some 1,078 consumer products making environmental claims were found to be misleading or outright fabrications. The key questions retailers and consumers should ask are: What is it made out of? Where is it made? The best answers are “with recycled materials” and “right here in the U.S.” Consumers can inspect for themselves whether or not a showroom is using all incandescent bulbs or mixing in some fluorescent bulbs. We all can and should be doing our part.

Jeff Hiller is a founding board member of the Sustainable Furniture Council and serves as chair of its Marketing Committee. He is owner of PROAction Marketing Group, Austin, TX.

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