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Sunday, February 14, 2016

Guest Blog : Thomas Bray (Part 2) : How Our Social Structure Needs Change.
The following is Guest Blog article produced by Thomas Bray of Direct Trade Supplies which examines how changing of some our fundamental attitudes and behaviours could enable us to live more sustainably and reward the development of new social values and goals.

Addressing the Advertising of Consumerism

Look at the way we are indoctrinated from birth to adulthood, we are plied with materialistic goals and aspirations which are considered to be the only real signs of success and integrity.  We are constantly exposed to psychological warfare and propaganda to help shape our brain to a certain way of thinking. We are controlled by a select number of invisible figures, intertwined in leading commercial businesses which share staggering profits and dish out suspicious backhanders for the benefit of only those at the top. But what if it was different, what if the ambitions they played out to us concentrated on contributing to a healthier and happier planet earth, with the preservation of nature and the environment at the forefront of their demands.

I’m not saying take away every element of materialism but pin it back to second or third place. Success shouldn’t be emphasised by how many cars you have, how big your home is or how many designer brand names you wear. Perhaps there should be a cap on how much consumer content can be used or at least produce enough content that concentrates on the environment to help balance the output. We need mankind to see through the object-orientated attractions, so they can find new and often free ways to gain their life highs.

Reconnecting With Nature

The odd fleeting campaign is not enough to tackle this pandemic. Look at the money spent on advertising brand names each year, look at gutter journalists raking and making up nonsense for their paper's political gain and look at the attention given towards commercialised sports – condense all of this energy, resource and funding into something that categorically means a lot more than all of the above; then, we might be onto something. Unfortunately at the moment it seems that numbers in a bank account is deemed more important than the future of our wonderful plants, animals and the environs that surround them. And until we bridge that gap and rediscover a love for the natural and spiritual gifts on earth – we will continue to be stuck in a smoky machine that stops for nothing, even if it means destroying the only platform it’s been given to explore.

Educating From An Early Age

I believe a complete overhaul of our existing social structure is required. From an early age parents and schools should teach our children about the importance of planet earth, the way in which we should interact with it and what steps we have to take to make sure it has a bright future. Just like the core subjects of English, Maths and Science, there should be a great emphasis on Earth studies. A reshuffle in the curriculum should hopefully plant the seed early on. As a side note, for poorer communities there must be a structure in place at school that can guide youngsters out of their situation and deter them from being attracted to criminal activities, which are sometimes the only visible career path they can take. This kind of allowance for a ‘how to get out the ghetto’ studies has been spoken about before, mainly by cultural commentators, but it has yet to fully gain traction or be implemented in inner city schooling.

Commercial Outlets Taking Responsibility

Businesses will also have to share a responsibility in curbing their pollution, from the amount of paper they get through to the fumes coming out of a factory. Although there are certain environmental laws and guidelines already in place these could be tightened and a threat to close down business, no matter how big or influential, would be issued if they fail to comply.

Obviously a small company will produce a lot less pollution compared to a larger one, so this means the requirements of how much pollution is allowed should be scaled up in proportion to a company’s size, operation and the nature of its business. Businesses currently have to pay environmental tax but there could be further schemes that see a particular percentage of profits filter into a piggy bank which can be accessed by leading charities, ecologists and campaign groups. These experts will then use this money to fund new inventions or secure protection for a vast range of natural subjects, from animals to the atmosphere.

There needs to be a truly independent body that monitors the amount of waste and pollution a business is producing. Should there be anything that inhibits or crosses over the guidelines the business should be instantly approached to find out why. If there are no appropriate reasons to why the pollution guidelines were breached then action should be taken, no matter who they are. We need to see an end to backhanders, favours and slipping through the net, the rules must not bent just because of who the perpetrator is. We are all accountable and no matter how powerful the organisation is - it should be treated just like the next.

Technology Will Play Its Part

There are some shining lights, such as the tweak to conserve more energy by introducing the influx of LEDs, which one day are said to completely replace and phase out CFL (Compact Fluorescent Bulbs). LEDs are by no means the end game for energy efficient lighting but at the moment they offer the only true alternative to other energy hungry lamps. What’s more LED modules are flexible and adaptable, and can be inserted into tiny pieces of technology which could never be achieved by previous cumbersome lamps.

There should be a real demand to make ordinary and well established items into greener and healthier things. People shouldn’t be put off by the magnitude of change and the opportunities to do so should be easily accessible. Engineers and innovators should be trying hard to make these products and projects more approachable for the masses, rather than offering solutions that take a lot of time, money and a radical overhaul of existing schedules/routines.

Helping Others To Improve Their Lives and Environment

Another issue that is currently being tackled by small design teams is the use of kerosene lamps in off-grid locations and humanitarian disasters. For years kerosene lamps have been the only light source for people living in war zones, locations that have suffered natural disasters and areas such as sub-saharan Africa that live off-grid with no electricity. Although kerosene lamps offer essential light, the Intermediate Technology Development Group and World Health Organisation state that the indoor air pollution from kerosene lamps and other similar indoor lighting fuels has resulted in more than 1.5 million deaths per year; contributing to lung disease, respiratory issues and eye-related deficiencies. With these shocking stats in mind, lighting designers and innovators have tried to find alternative ways to provide light and reduce deaths, which in-turn will also reduce pollution. One team called Solight Design have created a product called the SolarPuff, a durable, flexible and mobile lighting device that soaks up natural sunlight during the day, ready to turn into artificial light when it gets dark.

A simple yet effective product like the SolarPuff has the potential to be distributed across the world, to those that need it the most. It is pending approval with world governing bodies and has been piloted during the Haiti Earthquake in 2010. The positive outcome for these kinds of energy efficient lighting systems are endless - they can light up a classroom full of youngsters eager to learn, light up a home for navigational necessities and make intruders think twice about entering a property. One of the most damning statistics attached to off-grid locations without light, particularly in Sub Saharan Africa, is that a power outage increases the probability of rape by 20%. This is another important reason to address these problems and bring a solution that not only changes lives but also improves the world’s climate.

The Mission Is Achievable

Although these blueprints for change are positive - is it enough? In short, no it isn’t. We need to be assessing each and every pollutant and coming up with new ways to reduce its risk. We need to overhaul the entire structure and pull together in the same direction, whether it’s a regular citizen recycling every night or it’s a billionaire business in the oil trade - we need this to be a consensus all over and a mission that is followed by humanity as a whole.

There are 7 billion people in this world and it’s about time we took responsibility of where we live and what surrounds us. We have so many things on our side to make change possible  - intelligence, technology, kindness and willingness, all of these points and more can be drawn upon to make the dreams of a better planet earth a reality. We need to put religion and conflict to one side, and view humanity as a one living organism. At the end of the day we are all just body bags of DNA existing on a spinning rock in the air, but it just so happens that this spinning rock is full of amazing and important natural furnishings that need protecting to ensure its flourishing future.

Written by Thomas Bray of Direct Trade Supplies, Electrical Wholesaler.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Guest Blog : Changing Consumer Culture... One LED At A Time

Changing Consumer Culture... One LED At A Time
I sit here as a 26 year old man, shaking my head at the state of the world. At the recent COP21 (Climate Conference) in Paris, our leaders made all sorts of grand promises about reducing humanity’s impact on the world. Despite it being good to debate and share ideas, they failed to explain how our growth-driven economic model is going to reach this summit and what strides we all need to take to make a better world possible.

In this opinion piece I would like to explore how our economic model and the associated consumer culture that drives it - needs to change, if we are all to play our part in helping breathe new life back into nature’s foundations. In order to turn our noble dreams into a tangible reality we all need to face some cold hard truths about modern life and our own expectations. Ultimately, we need to challenge ourselves to think and act in new ways, which don’t necessarily revolve around endless growth and consumption.

We are all consumers now, but are there any alternative ways of leading full and rich lives without defining ourselves as consumers?

I’m talking about a complete culture change, a shift in attitudes, right across the board and at every social level. It is no longer enough for a handful of campaigners to bang drums and wave banners. We require mainstream change by considering how the millions of everyday actions can be made less harmful - quickly, easily and affordably. There are positive signs that this is possible, take the last 10 years in the lighting industry, many of the light bulbs we use today have become 90% more energy efficient and new technologies have plummeted in price as they continue to be made in their billions.

But what are the next steps? Plastic bags, cars, homes? How do we learn the lessons from the giant leaps in energy efficient lighting? How do we apply this model to every area of life?

Step 1 : Take stock of what’s around you.

What do you own, how do you interact and what can be improved upon. This can be anything from how you get to work to how you light your home.

Step 2 : Take the first step
When trying to change, taking the first step can often feel the hardest. It is therefore important to break the changes you want to make it small pieces and to allow yourself some early successes. My recommendation is therefore to implement some of the smaller and more achievable improvements first. After this you can tackle the bigger changes, from firmer foundations.

Step 3 : Measure what you monitor
In order to remain motivated, and sustain your efforts over the long-term, it is important to measure what you plan to monitor, so that your successes (and failures) can be quantified and used to show you what has been effective.

Step 4 : Share what works
Raising awareness of the changes you’ve made and demonstrating these have worked will enable you to scale up what you have learnt and help your environment. Try to influence your peers to make similar strides.

Step 5 : Build a team
Once you have some success under your belt, why not think about what you and others can do to tackle the bigger picture. Maybe set up a group with like-minded individuals and build a team with a clear goal and perhaps even a sustainable business model, that will allow your efforts to build and grow over the years.

The Transition Towns Handbook can offer some great advice on how to do this.
Step 6 : Lighting the way: On a more personal note, one of the easiest ways to reduce energy consumption is to be savvy with heating and lighting. The majority of energy efficient light bulbs, such as LEDs, are now produced to accommodate a vast range of fixtures. So the next time you need to replace your halogen and incandescent bulbs why not consider using some eco friendly LEDs and (cough) visiting our light bulb store at  Direct Trade Supplies.

Change is never easy - especially when you are trying to change a whole culture - but I hope that the steps I ave proposed will give you something useful to think about.

Written by Thomas Bray from  Direct Trade Supplies, Electrical Wholesaler.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Big brands 'cheating' with false energy efficiency claims
BREAKING NEWS... from The Guardian... VW mark II?

Lightbulb manufacturers are misleading consumers about the brightness and energy use of their products by exploiting a loophole in European tests, lab results seen by the Guardian show.

Ikea, Philips, GE and Osram are among the companies exaggerating energy performance up to 25% higher than that claimed on packaging, according to the Swedish Consumer Association tests. Ikea told the Guardian as a result it would refund customers who were dissatisfied with bulbs they had bought from its stores.

The discrepancy is caused by manufacturers taking advantage of leeways – known as “tolerances” in official testing procedures for bulbs.

The Swedish tests, conducted between, 2012-14, found that a 42W Airam halogen lamp consumed 25% more energy than claimed on the label to achieve its declared 630 lumens of brightness.

A GE 70W halogen bulb guzzled 20% more energy to reach its stated 1,200 lumens. A 28W Philips halogen bulb was found to be 24% less bright than claimed while Ikea’s 53W and 70W bulbs both underperformed by 16%.

A senior lighting industry executive told the Guardian that tolerance manipulation was rampant, forcing smaller firms to put substandard products onto the market or risk going out of business.
“All the major brands are doing it,” the source said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“No one is clean on this issue and everyone has to follow suit to compete. In the past, we declared our measured values on the packaging but when we measured our competitors equivalent products we saw that they were declaring higher values on their labels.

“So we had to play the same game. We’re in a competitive market and if we didn’t, we would be idiots.”

There is nothing illegal about the mislabelling, which cuts across brands and ranges and affects the lightbulbs’ advertised brightness per unit of energy – rather than their A-G energy label ratings.

But the same whistleblower, who has two decades of experience in the industry, said that many companies manufactured products with lower-grade components knowing that they would fall short of the required wattage and lumens specifications, as his firm was now reluctantly doing.

“The industry just follows the letter of the regulations, and they’re not in line with today’s technology,” he explained. “The net result is that consumers are being cheated by the system and I’m fed up with it.”

The European tests for bulbs allow for a 10% tolerance threshold, meaning a bulb advertised as rated at 600 lumens, a measure of brightness, could in reality be 540 lumens.

A 2-3% tolerance threshold would be fairer and easily doable at little extra cost to consumers, the Guardian’s source said.

The European commission is aware of the loophole and has been working on proposals to close it since November 2012. Staff working documents show that officials knew that firms were exploiting loopholes in the system as far back as 2013. But plans for a legislative proposal are still gathering dust.

“The commission found out that lighting manufacturers were adding the tolerance to the performance they measured for their own lamps, and using this to claim a higher label class than the performance they measured [in their energy] labelling or claim a pass for a product they measured as failing in ecodesign [regulations],” a commission spokesperson said. “This is not what is meant to be done, but the text of the regulations did not specifically exclude it.”

While the commission has moved to close the loophole in energy labelling, lamp ecodesign requirements will not be reformed until next year, the official added.

This would leave the tolerance loophole in place for other home appliances such as TVs, water heaters, dishwashers, washing machines, fridges and air conditioners.

The cost to consumers across the home appliance industry range could be as high as €2bn a year, when other home appliance product ranges were factored in, the campaign group Coolproducts said.
Viktor Sundberg, a vice-president at Electrolux said that tolerance loopholes should be closed across all product ranges. “I would like the EU to go ahead with a clarification to make the law clearer to everyone at the beginning of next year,” he said.

Efficiency campaigners say that they have been told by officials that a robust proposal to address the problem is “doomed” because of fears in Brussels of attracting headlines comparing it to the VW diesel emissions scandal.

“VW went bang and EU regulators woke up,” said Stephane Arditi, a product expert for the European Environmental Bureau. “The same thing could happen with home appliances, but the commission leadership would prefer to go back to sleep. They should accelerate rather than bury these reforms. Until they do, the playing field will slope in favour of those prepared to deceive their own customers.”

Raw data from the 2012 and 2013 tests has been published on a blog.

When contacted by the Guardian, Ikea offered full refunds or product exchanges to any customers dissatisfied with lightbulbs they had bought from their stores.

“The report refers to halogen bulbs that are no longer sold at Ikea,” a spokesperson for the Swedish firm said. “Since September 2015, we switched our entire lighting range to LED for our customers to live a more sustainable life at home.”

Jo Picardo, a spokesperson for Philips, said that the firm complied with all relevant standards and was committed to accurate labelling.

“Lamp performance can differ per bulb,” she said. “This is the nature of the product and is especially true of halogen bulbs due to the tungsten coil. On average our bulbs meet the specs well within the allowed 10% tolerance range.”

Osram described the issue as “not company-specific but an industry topic” and deferred to the Lighting Europe trade association.

Diederik de Stoppelaar, Lighting Europe’s secretary-general, said that the industry was aware of the problem and that his association’s tests had found discrepancies of up to 35% in stated lightbulb performances, mostly involving bulbs manufactured outside the EU.

“The allegations are not new to us as in our market surveillance programme we had the same findings,” he said. “We found mistakes in lumen output mainly.” His preferred solution though was for a simplified label, rather than an end to the current tolerance threshold.

“We need a reasonable tolerance and in principle, tolerances of 10% are accepted in international standards,” he said. “I believe that all the major suppliers are within the limit. Once or twice you might get an occasional difference but that can also be a manufacturing issue, or an exceptional case.”
De Stoppelaar declined to share information about the performance of EU-based companies in Lighting Europe’s surveys.

This article was amended on 17 December 2015. An earlier version showed a photograph of a fluorescent, rather than halogen, bulb.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Guest blog : Trust and the need for independent lab tests
by Rory Wilding, Which LED Light

For anyone shopping, switching to LED lighting represents one of the biggest opportunities to make significant money savings whilst also reducing our environmental impact.

Despite the clear financial benefits of investing more money upfront in a longer lasting LED light bulb, which produces strong white light and is dimmable, we have seen little excitement about this new technology from the average person on the street.

This is strange as unlike other sustainability initiatives, switching to LED lighting is one of the easiest changes an individual can make on a day-to-day level. No major new habits are necessary and no sacrifices in lighting performance are required; people can have all of the light they are used to at a fraction of the cost by simply switching a new underlying technology, which increasingly looks just like the old one.

Even better, once the switch has been made its not uncommon for LED light bulbs to have lifetimes of up to 25 years before needed to be changed again. So again, why the hesitation?

Partners on both sides appear willing – customers clearly want cheaper bills and manufacturers, at least on paper, have a product to sell that can help achieve this goal.

Well, at Which LED Light we think there could be some trust issues in the market!

In recent years there has been a tide of stories where consumers have been the only real victim; the horse meat scandal, rising energy prices in contrast to falling oil prices, and the price fixing of milk to name a few. The latest? Fudged emissions data by Volkswagen to get their diesel cars through the emissions testing process.

People originally bought into diesel cars on the promise of a greener more efficient technology. This has dramatically shifted into consumers being fooled into purchases through corporate fraud and with senior executives looking potentially complicit in the process.

Volkswagen found a way of cheating in the lab tests for their vehicles’ emissions with a ‘defeat device’ that could sense when the car was being tested and adjust its NOx emissions downwards accordingly. Another way of putting this is VW had cheated because they were allowed to mark their own homework and avoid both independent scrutiny and full public disclosure.

This highlights a real need for transparency in the way data is gathered and the software systems being used during and after performance tests. It also adds fuel to the fire when it comes to consumer confidence in so-called ‘green’ or ‘clean’ technologies.

Make no mistake we are all for LED lighting and believe its one of the biggest no-brainers of the last decade; the global cost of lighting energy is approximately $230 billion per year, of which $100 to $135 billion can be saved with present-day technologies. However to realise these savings there is a desperate need to create confidence with end-users to accelerate uptake.

Unfortunately, an implicit assumption from consumers is that there will be gap between what brands claim in terms of quality and what they will experience with LED lighting once they buy it. The fairest way to tackle this problem is to put all lights on an even playing field and test their performance claims through an independent test lab in a consistent fashion.

We request that manufacturers provide us with independent lab test to verify LED product claims. We can then allow our users to filter products to see which LED bulbs have had an independent lab test to verify the manufacturers claims. We hope that implementing this proposal would help to create the trust needed by this new and uncertain market place. Such a measure would allow people to make a truly informed purchasing decision based around transparent data and impartiality rather than brand strength alone.

Remember – Volkswagen has been the top selling automaker in Europe for the past two decades. The point we are making here is that data is essentially meaningless unless gathered in an independent fashion. To truly inspire consumers to make that leap of faith with a new technology means the onus is on manufacturers to reduce the risk on the individual by providing as much transparent data as possible.

Relationships are built on trust. At Which LED Light, we have discussed the psychology of consumers before in relation to manufacturers and LED lighting. In the age of information, on-demand brands need to look at consumers in less of a transactional fashion and more as an ongoing relationship. The truth is just a Google search, tweet, or Facebook post away. If people trust the technology and the benefits are clear then uptake is inevitable and potential payback for people and planet is obvious.

The LED lighting market is becoming increasingly crowded with large corporate non-traditional lighting players like IKEA and Dyson entering the market alongside an influx of start-ups. The manufacturers that are aware of this and act early will be the ones that win out. Without trust LED light bulbs may take years to move into the mainstream thus reducing sales for manufacturers and denying consumers one of the most disruptive technologies of recent years.

In lighting, as in all areas of life, trust is not granted, it has to be earned.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Guest blog : New uses for LEDs emerging
A guest blog by Tom Bray

The large ­scale production of LEDs in China has undoubtedly made the energy saving light source a more affordable and accessible option. In recent years retailers have been promoting the benefits of using LED technology, making it a go ­to consumer product for helping reduce electricity bills and conserve energy. Although LEDs are still being fine tuned by experts, such as dimming compatibility issues, on a whole they have been well received and are currently the champions of energy efficient lighting.

The headway that LED lamps have made is as clear as day. From what was once a niche product, only available for people with a nice bit expenditure, has now become a viable choice for everyone shopping in their local store. Yet this example only demonstrates LEDs in their most basic form – a module in a light bulb. What about LEDs integrating with other advanced technology, innovations and future design ideas?

How great they are at saving energy is well rehearsed but often lagging behind are other advantages posed by the LED. Colour, flexibility and size are all contributors to the LEDs success. Although they may not be acknowledged or fully understood by general consumers these feats have not gone unnoticed with technological engineers, creative thinkers and product designers. LEDs have now found their feet in an array of sectors where traditional fluorescents and halogens just can't tread.

Imagine a world where you can access information technology without picking up a phone or switching on a computer, instead achieved through a body accessory. Well designers have already got the ball rolling with LED eye contacts in the offing – AKA the bionic lens. This latest innovation is in its early stages of development but the main premise is that users will be able to gain access to
information such as emails through the means of a highly advanced contact lens.

The sheer size of technology ploughed into this diddy device will require pages and pages full of information to help dissect its true mechanics and function, but the core elements involved are the antenna, a chip, an integrated circuit, LEDs, Fresnel lenses and polymer substrate with electrical interconnects. By using LEDs powered by a chip users will be able to interpret visual experiences from the eye.

This tiny contact lens could well be the end point of a monumentally long technological supply chain that relies upon a global search engine or a video/image streaming computing power from around in the world. However, the reliance of such bionic lens on big transnational server farms could perhaps hinder an energy efficient life cycle, regardless of how small, convenient and energy friendly the actual screens are. Something to bear in mind for developers, space planners and appliers of infrastructure.

Whether photographs, graphs or text, the implementation of LED technology is vital to make these images achievable. It is also thought that this innovation will be a major hit within the gaming industry as it could open up many doors in the mysterious world of augmented reality. If abused this technology has the potential to be dangerous revelation but on the face of it, and through rose
tinted glasses, it's an ingenious and extremely exciting development.

Sticking with the eye but a completely different example is an already established beauty product which was launched in Japan by digital media designers Soomi Park who have sought to emphasise the shape and size of the eye by developing the LED eye lash!

This product is yet to find its way overseas, but could indicate where similar beauty and fashion applications may follow. Who's to say that illuminating facial features won't be the blusher and skin foundation of the future or discrete signalling system of the future?

Let me take you well away from the face and into a warm place – the home, the restaurant, the hotel foyer, because LED technology has wriggled its flexible shape into interior design as well.

Around five years ago electrical giants Philips hooked up with Kvadrat Soft Cells to create an enhanced feature for any room – LED wall paper. With Philips expertise laid within lighting, control and electricity as well as Kvadrat Soft Cells formidable reign within textiles, foam backed panels and sound absorption; this collaboration was always going to be interesting.

Perhaps not the most feasible application for general households due to an expensive price tag and questions over practicality, it is though an adventurous invention for commercial outlets. With sound absorption qualities for the reduction of noise it also promises a new route for restaurants to create a cosy and intimate feeling through its variable colour controls.

Controlled via a remote control users are able to reflect an unlimited amount of hues to help evolve a multitude of effects. This can no doubt develop into a brilliant way for portraying a particular mood or theme; helping to drum home a brand's identity, heritage and house style. The intimacy within the room can go up a notch with LED wall papers, whether a sophisticated approach for dining in a restaurant or a sparkling hit to the senses as you enter a luxury hotel – it really does offer an interesting alternative to getting the paint tins out and redecorating.

So whether it's future fashion, beauty, gaming or interiors it looks like LEDs are going to play an important role. Next time you see a stack of bulbs in a supermarket or a tradesman trying to flog energy saving light bulbs just remember that the potential of the LED stretches much further than lighting a hallway at home. What's more they are kind to the environment and will accomplish much, much more than any fluorescent or halogen lamp can ever do.

So isn't it about time we ditched the energy hungry lamps and made it compulsory to go LED? The sign of the times suggests that they're very much in the plans for the foreseeable future. But then again, that doesn't necessarily mean that LEDs are the concrete winners forever because innovators still need to progress lighting efficiencies, but for now, they are the winners and they are

By Tom Bray of Direct Trade Supplies