Brightgreen’s CEO and Head Product Designer Dave O’Driscoll talks about lighting, planned obsolescence and his philosophies on design and management.

How would you describe Brightgreen’s position in the lighting industry?

Brightgreen is focussed on designing premium LED lights that provide the highest quality of illumination using as little energy and resources as possible.

Having begun life as a relatively small Australian company in Perth in 2008, we have expanded to become a larger outfit with in-house design, engineering, testing, marketing and sales teams. We currently exhibit and distribute around the world, supported by additional offices in South Africa and Germany.

What’s involved in designing a new LED light?

It’s a combination of factors. We design some componentry from scratch such as lenses, heat sinks and electronics and combine these with the best existing componentry that we can find. We don’t design the diodes themselves but we do work with diode manufacturers to specify the best possible diode for the purpose we need it to fulfil.

When starting the LED light design process, we begin with an information session during which we gather all of the information we have about the product that we need to design or the gap in the market that we need to fill. Then comes ideation – we come up with as many solutions as possible, some of which build upon existing components and products that we have developed. Eventually we decide which solutions to implement in the first prototype, and begin improving upon that for as long as it takes to create a light that meets our high standards.

We have our own testing labs in our Collingwood headquarters, allowing us to test our products thoroughly at each stage of development before seeking independent testing when we reach a version that is ready for market.

With 20+ year lifespans, is there a risk of LEDs facing a sort of technological obsolescence? Will people upgrade to the latest lamps that are offering even greater savings before current models expire?

The key factor with regards to LED lighting is the quality of the light that the luminaire emits. We are currently approaching a plateau in terms of light quality.

CRI – colour rendering index values – are key when discussing light quality. Our Curve and Cube ranges of products have a rating of 95+ CRI, meaning that the light they emit contains 95+% of the light wavelengths that the eye can see. With only that remaining 5% to achieve, our lighting products will only become obsolete to those with a very sensitive eye, or who need 100% CRI for professional tasks such as colour matching or detailed painting.

What inspired your push-back against planned obsolescence?

It stems from our personal belief that, as designers, we should deliver the best possible product to consumers. In our eyes, “best” means the most durable, highest performing and lowest energy consuming light, which is still economically accessible to our customers that we can possibly design.

What is your marketing model?

All of our marketing is generated in-house, giving us greater control and the ability to be instantly responsive. Recently we have begun to apply the pivot method as cited by Eric Ries, author of ‘The Lean Startup’, to not only product development but marketing strategy also.

Education plays an important part in our marketing strategy. We want to educate consumers so that they feel empowered to make the best possible purchasing decision that they can, rather than attempt to win them over with jargon and false claims.

In general terms, what are the future plans and outlook for the business?

We are currently focusing on expansion into the European market. We will be attending the Light + Building fair in Frankfurt this March/April.

2014 will also see Brightgreen expand our product offering to include a new range of outdoor lighting products.

What motivates buyers?

We deal with a very broad range of clients, from lighting designers who use light decoratively to contractors and facility managers who need thousands of downlights, to home consumers who simply want to swap out incandescent bulbs for LED equivalents. The three key factors that unite all of these customer groups are brightness and light quality, payback time/energy cost savings, and longevity.

How do you view sustainability as a theme for future growth?

Sustainability isn’t simply a tactic for business growth, it’s a necessary factor that needs to be incorporated into all businesses and manufacturing models if we are to sustain life on earth.

In terms of sustainability as a theme for growth within Brightgreen, we are currently looking at applying our energy-saving technologies to products beyond LED lighting, harnessing our design and engineering skills to reduce the ecological impact of other product sectors.

One product we are prototyping is a hybrid daylighting system that concentrates natural light on the roof or façade of a building and redirects it throughout a space using optical fibres, and some of our team have been loosely developing an electric motorcycle.

What is the recyclability of your lamps?

98% of the materials that go into Brightgreen products can be recycled or reformed into new products. We have also just instigated carbon offsetting into the manufacturing of all Brightgreen lights to ensure that we are carbon positive.

What was the thinking behind the Brightgreen Ideahub? Is it working for the business?

With backgrounds in everything from electric vehicle engineering to fashion branding, the Brightgreen team has a variety of interests that enables us to approach problems from different directions. The Ideahub was created as a space to tap into this diverse set of skills and approach the little problems in life that exist outside of Brightgreen’s standard product offering of interior (and soon to be exterior) LED lighting – it’s a space to write self-initiated briefs and develop ideas based on issues that directly affect us. For example Luto, our screen-mounted smart light that was funded via Kickstarter at the end of 2013, was borne out of problems that were affecting some members of the Brightgreen team on a daily basis.

The Ideahub has allowed us to strengthen our ties with manufacturers and promote the innovative work we do at Brightgreen as a whole through media coverage. We are also continually learning from our experiences – some issues we have tackled through the Ideahub, such as shooting a promotional video for Kickstarter, have provided insight that we have fed back into Brightgreen as a whole.

You operate a high-trust management structure, offering employees a great deal of individual flexibility. Is it something all businesses can adopt?

When it comes to recruitment, we are very selective and strive to employ individuals with strong self-management skills and a sense of ambition. We also think a lot about how personalities will fit into the team – we’re a small, sociable lot and we like to keep it that way, not only because it is more pleasant for all involved but also because ideas flow much more easily when everyone is comfortable expressing themselves.

Running a company that is relatively free from corporate structure and is instead founded on negotiation, respect and trust has resulted in fulfilling experiences for all involved. It can be applied to all businesses to a certain extent but getting the mix of people right is vital.

What advice would you offer to someone starting a sustainability-focused business?

It’s not enough to have a “green” product or service that relies on its sustainability credentials as its unique selling point – it must also perform to the highest possible standards within your sector or, better yet, out-perform current products on the market.

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