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Sustainability Part 1 – More Utilitarian, Less Decorative – The Future of Lighting

2009 SAAB 9-3 Convertible – The original sustainable vehicle?

I drive a 2009 SAAB 9-3 Convertible. This is, without question the best car I have ever owned and despite its age, still looks great. I purchased this car a few months prior to SAAB exiting the automobile business. I never owned a SAAB prior, but I quickly found out that there is a joyful cult surrounding current and former SAAB owners. When the closure of the manufacturer was announced, fellow SAAB owners would pull up next to me, open their window and ask, “What are we going to do?” I learned that many SAAB owners were SAAB owners for life. Like me, they liked the solid, dependable build and the quirky stylings that made the design impervious to trends, fads and the constant waves of the “next best thing.”

For the last few years, I have been predicting a lighting “future world” where fewer decorative lighting products are used and more (much more) functional lighting products will be installed in residential spaces. We will still have centerpiece items featured in dining rooms, over multiple areas in the kitchen and foyers, but the rest of the home will see lighting hidden in, over, behind, inside and below architectural elements in the room. Like recessed cans, lighting will be indirect, easy to use and impervious to the stylistic shifts that are inevitable in the home furnishings industry. Product that forgoes style fads, like my SAAB will maintain relevance farther into the future than flash-in-the-pan ideas.

Why is This Occurring?

Because of the rapid adoption of LED technology, a couple of things have occurred. First, the LED diode is small. Very small. This has allowed for the development of tiny functional light. LED Tape has, in just a few years, become a ubiquitous method of lighting. It is filling trays, coves, toekicks, cabinets and over-cabinet areas. It is very fairly priced, has proven to last for a long time and the lumen output options are many. Versions of LED Tape are also finding their way into integrated luminaires. Designers are taking advantage of the tiny size and reimagining decorative lighting.

LED diodes are expected to last between 40,000 to 50,000 hours. Operating six hours a day, that calculates to somewhere between 18 and 24 years! When the average luminaire is replaced every 7-10 years, it is easy to see that the viability is not matching demand. We can and will use functional products longer, because they have no impact on aesthetics. They will last over three or four home remodels before replacement is needed.

Sustainability is of growing concern to the consumer. It is more important right now to the younger buyer, but those customers will be around for many more years and their peak spending years on home furnishings are starting now and will rise as we move into the future. As this group mature and younger people age into home ownership, it is predicted their demand for sustainability will NOT disappear. Products removed and replaced long before their end of life will not jell with a sustainably conscious consumer. Knowing that 75% to 90% of the lighting could last longer and perhaps only one or two luminaires would need to be replaced due to a dated appearance, will be much more palatable. These new realities will change how designers interact with customers and together how they interact with lighting.

Meanwhile, Back On the Road

A constant question or comment shouted from other drivers to me centers around longevity.

“How many miles does your car have?”

“What year is that?”

“I drove my [fill in the year and/or model of their SAAB] for [fill-in a HUGE quantity of miles]

SAAB owners know that timeless design allows them to ignore trends. They will receive the benefit of great performance and extended years of use because the engineering is solid. LED is earning the same reputation. Early on, people worried about what would happen when the LED “burned out.” They are finding that it just doesn’t happen that often. My “ALL LED” kitchen has been humming along for fourteenth year with nary a problem. It is not an anomaly.

To fully take advantage of this longevity, a shift is occurring. More indirect light, more functional light. More utilitarian light. A greater reliance on recessed lighting. Fewer decorative pieces. This change makes sense for the room, the ecologically sensitive consumer and perhaps more importantly, the planet. As designers, we need to make this work aesthetically. Trust me. That is the easy part. Reducing landfill. That’s the tough one.

143,130 miles…and counting.

3 replies on “Sustainability Part 1 – More Utilitarian, Less Decorative – The Future of Lighting”

What a great post. It’s helpful for us, as designer’s, to understand the future of lighting and we need to be encouraged to branch out and light more ‘areas’, rather than just adding lamps or ceiling fixtures, thanks for the gentle push towards sustainability and better design.

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