Light Bulbs


Ethical shopping guide to Light Bulbs, from Ethical Consumer

Ethical shopping guide to Light Bulbs, from Ethical Consumer


This is a product guide from Ethical Consumer, the UK's leading alternative consumer organisation. Since 1989 we've been researching and recording the social and environmental records of companies, and making the results available to you in a simple format.


Light Bulbs in the Spotlight
 

The report includes:

  • Ethical and environmental ratings for 16 brands of lightbulbs
  • Best Buy recommendations
  • Energy efficiency
  • European Legislation
  • What is a LED light bulb?

 

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Our ratings are live updated scores from our primary research database. They are based on primary and secondary research across 23 categories - 17 negative categories and 6 positive ones (Company Ethos and Product Sustainability). Find out more about our ethical ratings

 

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Image: Ecozone Light Bulbs

 


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Last updated: June 2017 

 

 

 

Lighting the Way

 

Lighting consumes about the same electricity in Europe as the residential electricity consumption of France, the UK, the Netherlands, Portugal and Italy combined, according to Cool Products, a coalition of European NGOs campaigning on energy labelling.

However, they also declare that a ‘lighting revolution’ is underway, with the use of highly energy-efficient LED light bulbs increasing due to falling costs and legislation requirements.

This guide covers light bulb brands sold in the UK and rates the companies that produce them on their sustainability policies. Some of the supermarkets also have their own-brand light bulbs. For their rating, please refer to our supermarkets product guide

 

Image: Light Bulb


All the brands in this report sell LED light bulbs and some of the brands sell halogen and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). CFLs are also referred to as ‘energy saving light bulbs’.

It’s no longer possible to buy traditional incandescent bulbs which have been phased out in Europe.

 

 

The colour of light
 

The colour of light is measured on the Kelvin scale, which is actually a measure of temperature. This is why light bulb manufacturers often refer to ‘colour temperature’ on the packaging. 

 

Image: Colour Temperature

 

Light bulbs are also measured using the Colour Rendering Index which is a measure of how well a light source accurately reveals various colours. Halogen and traditional incandescent get in the high 90s (out of 100) on this measure. Which? has found some LEDs that achieve over 90 but most are in the low 80s.

 

 

What is an LED light bulb?
 

An LED light bulb is a cluster of light-emitting diodes that are mounted on a single base and encased in a diffuser lens to spread the light across a larger area. These bulbs emit light from a semiconductor chip and generate less heat than traditional incandescents.

LED bulbs last up to ten times longer than compact fluorescents and far longer than typical incandescents. They are available in a range of watts, colours, bases and shapes, with dimmable controls etc., each having specific uses in various application areas.

 


 

 

Energy efficiency

The Energy Saving Trust states that lighting accounts for 18% of a typical household’s electricity bill. Therefore, choosing energy-efficient light bulbs can make a large difference to household expenditure.

All light bulbs are rated under the European Energy Efficiency label, which helps consumers understand the energy usage of the product they are buying. LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs are the most energy-efficient lights bulbs that you can buy for your home. The table below shows the different EU energy efficiency rating for each type of light bulb, with A++ being the most efficient.

 

Table: Energy efficiency

 

 

European legislation
 

In 2009, the EU began phasing out inefficient bulbs in favour of energy-efficient alternatives. The incandescent light bulb had existed for 130 years, but a global need to reduce carbon emissions has made it obsolete. Incandescent bulbs were turned off in the EU in September 2012.

The next stage of the EU’s plan to improve energy efficiency is to ban halogen light bulbs, which will prohibit the import and sale of your average 60 W halogen light bulb.

The original ban was meant to come into force from September 2016, however, a last-minute stay of execution was permitted and the ban extended until September 2018.

Retailers including Ikea have already stopped selling halogen and CFL light bulbs, citing the reduced cost and improved quality of LED light bulbs, which have made them more attractive to consumers.

 

Red tape?
 

Following the decision by the UK to leave the EU, the Telegraph newspaper, unsurprisingly, called on the UK government to get rid of the ‘red tape choking Britain’ and bring back the incandescent light bulb! Considering most of the world, including the US and China, is phasing out the use of incandescent bulbs it is unlikely that the UK will roll back the legislation. 

 

False efficiency claims

 

In December 2015, the Swedish Consumer Association found that brands such as Ikea, Philips, GE and Osram were exaggerating the energy performance of light bulbs on packaging. In an article in the Guardian it was claimed that “the discrepancy is caused by manufacturers taking advantage of leeways – known as ‘tolerances’ – in official testing procedures for bulbs.” The bulbs were found to be up to 25% less efficient than was claimed.

A later article explained: “The mismatch between advertising claims and reality arose because EU energy performance tests allowed lighting manufacturers to undershoot their advertised brightness ratings by 10%.” It was reported that the EU had known about the problem since 2013.

In April 2016, the EU voted to close loopholes that allow home appliance manufacturers to make misleading claims about their products’ energy performance, but light bulbs were excluded from the new rules.

 

The brightness of light
 

Criticisms of LED light bulbs have mainly focused around their inability to produce the same quality of light that halogen light bulbs can.

Which? magazine states: “In the past, when nearly everyone filled their homes with incandescent bulbs, brightness was measured in watts – which is actually a measure of power. Since the introduction of energy-saving bulbs, this is a less useful measure of brightness, as new bulbs use a lot less power to produce the same amount of light. So, instead, light output is measured in lumens. The higher the number of lumens, the brighter the light.”

For a bulb that produces the same amount of light as an old 60 W bulb, you will need any one of the below:

  • LED 10 W bulb
  • Energy Saving (CFL) 15 W bulb
  • Halogen 42 W bulb

 

All the brands in this report sell LED light bulbs between 9.5 W and 11 W with the cost per bulb ranging from £5 to £20.

 

 

Advantages and disadvantages of light bulb types

 

Table: Light Bulb Types 

Source: Which? Light Bulbs Advice Guide

* Some LEDs and CFLs can be used with dimmer switches but check with the manufacturer. Using an inappropriate switch or bulb may cause a fire hazard.

 


 

 

Score table highlights

 

While LED light bulbs are marketed as eco-products the companies behind the brands may not be so committed to reducing their environmental impacts. Ethical Consumer has looked at each of the featured brands’ environmental report, supply chain management policy and conflict minerals policy. The research found that many of the companies fail to publicly address any of these issues.

 

Environmental reporting
 

Only Kingfisher Plc and Verbatim (Mitsubishi) received Ethical Consumer’s best rating for environmental reporting.

TCP and Integral failed to have any environmental reporting or statements on their websites while Wilko, Wesfarmers (Homebase) and MiniSun’s websites contained vague statements committing them to reducing their environmental impacts but did not provide any targets or details about how they would achieve it. Consequently, these brands received Ethical Consumer’s worst rating for environmental reporting.

 

Supply chain management and China
 

On the whole, the companies in this report fail to demonstrate any commitment to workers’ rights within their supply chains. There are exceptions, with Philips and Kingfisher scoring a middle. However, the lack of policies on workers’ rights in this sector was of concern considering the likelihood of light bulbs being manufactured in China, where workers’ rights violations are common place, especially within the electronics industry.

 

Conflict minerals
 

Under Ethical Consumer’s rating system all electronic manufacturers are expected to have a policy on conflict minerals. All the companies scored worst in this category apart from GE, Toshiba and Philips, however, this is not that surprising considering the civil society pressure those three companies have faced. There was limited or no mention of the issue by other brands in this report.

 

Other ratings explained
 

Eagled-eyed readers may have spotted that some of the brands on the table receive marks under Ethical Consumer’s animal testing category. GE and Mitsubishi received a mark due to the fact they have been involved in animal testing for medical purposes. The other companies, Wickes, Wilko, Diall and Homebase, sell garden chemicals.

 


 

 

General Electric in Focus

 

General Electric (GE) is an American multinational company that offers products and services including aircraft engines, power generation, oil and gas production equipment, medical imaging and industrial products.

In 2016 it sold GE Capital and, in 2017, it was reported that it was looking to sell its GE Lighting business.

The multinational has faced much criticism being described as a "champion tax dogder".  It has also spent millions on lobbying in the USA and the EU. Read our feature on General Electric to find out more about some of its highly controversial activities. 

 

 

 

Company behind the brand
 

Toshiba, owner of the E-Core brand, has been struggling recently. In April 2017 it published its financial results after delaying publication while auditors attempted to quantify the scale of the problems at Toshiba’s US nuclear engineering subsidiary Westinghouse. Westinghouse filed for bankruptcy in March 2017.

Toshiba has warned investors it is facing a £7 billion loss for the year in 2017 and it was reported that failure to file audited results could force the company out of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. The company had been forced to take control of Nugen – a joint project with Engie – which is responsible for the construction of the Moorside nuclear power station in Cumbria.

Since 2015, Toshiba’s light bulbs have been manufactured and distributed in Europe by Unity Opto Technologies.

 

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