A Question of Light

Selling “light,” not light bulbs, is one way that companies producing long-lasting L.E.D. bulbs hope to stay in business, even after “socket saturation” sets in. PHOTOGRAPH BY TONY CENICOLA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX

Selling “light,” not light bulbs, is one way that companies producing long-lasting L.E.D. bulbs hope to stay in business, even after “socket saturation” sets in.
PHOTOGRAPH BY TONY CENICOLA / THE NEW YORK TIMES / REDUX

In a business world of planned obsolesce and consumer world “throw away behavior”,  it’s enlightening to see how companies are handling “doing good by doing well” for the both the environment and the consumer’s pockbook.

TRYING TO SOLVE THE L.E.D. QUANDARY

With its new line of L.E.D. bulbs, which came out in September, the company promises not just more energy-efficient light, but better light. “Better light makes the colors in the object that is illuminated more accurate, more vivid, more true,” Al Safarikas, the vice-president of consumer-product marketing, explained.

Better does not mean best. On the index that measures how accurately a light renders color, the warm, natural tone of the familiar incandescent bulb—those short-lived energy vampires that L.E.D.s are intended to replace—is the gold standard, scoring at or near a hundred out of a hundred. In Cree’s new bulb line, the L.E.D. analogue of a sixty-watt incandescent has a rating in the high eighties. That’s good, but Cree itself has made higher-priced products that offer equivalent projected life spans (twenty-two years under normal usage) but superior light quality, at least by this metric. Three years ago, Cree started selling bulbs that scored ninety-three on the index. They cost twenty dollars each. For the same price, you can get a four-pack of Cree’s most recent bulbs.

Cree’s latest generation of lights is not a leap forward so much as a strategic compromise at a price point that moves bulbs out of the hardware store. With sixty-seven bulbs in the average American home, products like Cree’s make it more affordable to shine high-quality, energy-efficient light everywhere from the bedside lamp to the storage closet, and your children could grow up and leave home before the next time you need to change a light bulb.

The company doesn’t intend to let that happen, however. Cree is approaching L.E.D. lights as products, like smartphones, that people will regularly upgrade in order to benefit from new features or improvements. These might range from further fine-tuning of efficiency and color quality, to app-driven “connected bulbs” that respond ever more perfectly to your needs or tastes. (Cree currently offers styles that can be remotely scheduled to dim, brighten, or turn off and on.)

“We’re not inventing this consumer behavior. It’s what technology companies do…”

Read the entire article here.

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