Could it be that entertainment lighting is actually ahead of the eco curve? After last year’s great EU tungsten debates that may come as a surprise.
But that subject was always much broader. It was about preserving choice where tungsten’s particular strengths are still unmatched, about pointing out that lower power use doesn’t always equate to ‘greener’ over a product’s working life, and about ensuring that entertainment lighting’s particular requirements were understood by those setting the rules for lighting’s future. Of course, reducing energy usage is important. That’s as true for lighting as it is for fridges and washing machines.
But you can already feel this becoming a bone of contention as consumers are nudged into buying new versions of products they already own just because they are more ‘eco-friendly’. Sadly, that’s not actually why people go shopping.
What gets them hooked is ‘better’, in some way. If it’s also more efficient – well, that’s just a useful bonus. Need an example that this approach works? Take entertainment lighting…
For his final year dissertation last summer, Rose Bruford student Mark Matthews analysed the use of tungsten versus arc versus LED light sources across a range of shows. A truly scientific comparison is impossible – every show has a different rig – but looking at successive shows at one theatre, London’s Prince Edward, at least meant the shows were of the same type and scale. The result was a fascinating graph covering 1993 to now.
That we’re already at this point is remarkable; other industries aren’t there yet
It appears that, given a free choice and a budget to support it, top-level lighting designers are not only embracing new light sources now, but have been doing so for a while. The graphs suggest LED had overtaken both tungsten and arc by about 2015. A glance at any recent concert or festival rig shows this shift is not limited to theatre.
Design is making choices, and while there are cases of those choices being made purely on environmental grounds – the work at the Arcola comes to mind – I suspect that wasn’t the motivation here. Rather it was about wanting a better tool (for example colour changing without scrollers), a more reliable tool (no more blown lamps), and a tool with lower running costs (no expensive arc lamps needing regular replacement). With perhaps the accounting quid-pro-quo that the higher purchase or rental costs for this new equipment was offset by lower running costs including lower power use.
That we’re already at this point is remarkable; other industries aren’t there yet. One Tesla ride convinces you electric is the future – until you need to travel further than it can go.
But there’s no room for complacency. There are so many other ways we could reduce the environmental impact of what we do. For example, these new lights use less energy, not no energy.
So the next question to ask those who run theatres: what source is that electricity actually generated from, and can it be switched to something more sustainable?
Rob Halliday is a lighting designer and programmer. Read more of his columns at: thestage.co.uk/author/Rob-Halliday