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Cutting carbon

Plumen: Watts Nott to like?

At Bulb, we love companies that make reducing energy usage simple and appealing.

Plumen, a London based designer of innovative low energy lighting, is one such company. Plumen was founded by Nicolas Roope, Michael-George Hemus and Ronnie Renton in 2010. Their mission is to “inspire the adoption of efficient lighting technologies by creating beautiful-to-behold and beautiful-to-use lighting products”. Their first product, the ‘Plumen 001’, achieved that objective in spades, winning awards around the world and changing the energy efficient lighting game. It’s even been added to the MOMA permanent design collection.

The compact fluorescent light lasts ten times longer than traditional bulbs while using only 20% of the energy. One of the perennial criticisms of energy efficient light bulbs is they tend to produce a low quality, cold light. Plumen have fixed this by producing energy-efficient bulbs that produce a high level of warm light, that you’d really want in your home. As a result, energy efficient lighting isn’t a product where you have to put up with a less high-quality experience in order to save the planet.

Since that first, game-changing release, they have continued to deliver products that stretch the boundaries of energy efficient lighting. Most recently, with the release of their Watt Nott range of LED bulbs, they've tried to create a truly mass market set of LED products that give people an affordable way of radically reducing their energy usage.

Plumen co-founder and Creative Director, Nik Roope, kindly answered some of our questions about how Plumen got to where they are now and what they’ve got planned in the future. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he’s a bit of a legend.

Bulb: Which is the lead driver for people purchasing a Plumen Bulb; energy efficient lights or beautiful design?

Nik: I would say it’s beauty. If it were the other way round we wouldn’t have stepped in! Climate change denial is still mainstream, so we need some tricks to drive change. And beauty is one of the best tricks of all.

Bulb: You were already producing energy efficient bulbs with the 001 and 002, so talk us through what led to the creation of the WattNott range?

Nik: We’re not a snobby design brand, we started Plumen to inspire people to adopt efficient products by making them really beautiful. The 001 really captured the imagination and was great for some situations, but not all. We created the 002 as an alternative for more cosy situations and then the 003 for a really high end, glamorous lighting experience. The core Plumen bulbs required a lot of investment and r&d, so they necessarily need a higher price point. But because we want to do everything we can to drive mass adoption, we created the WattNott range of bulbs that are accessibly priced and more playful. They’re less individual than core Plumen products but still have some nice twists that really make them stand out.

Bulb: Smart meters will have a transformative impact on the energy industry. What kind of impact will smart technology have on lighting design and products Plumen will be creating in the future?

Nik: Smart lighting does two really useful things for us. The first is they turn off when you don’t need them. You can squeeze enormous efficiency out of LED, but there is a limit. To get even greater performance you have to look at responsive systems that can switch them off when they’re not being used. Secondly, smart lighting offers an enhanced lighting experience in that it has the ability to change the light colour and intensity over the course of day and night. It can respond to different activities that benefit from different light settings (e.g. reading a book versus crashing out in front of the TV). We’re really excited about the smart lighting project we’re working on with Stack Lighting.

Bulb: At Bulb, we believe in making renewable energy affordable for everyone. When you designed the WattNott range, which sits at an affordable price point, what were the challenges you faced in designing affordable but beautifully designed LED lights?

Nik: We’re passionate about design and love to push formats, materials and constructions to extremes to create really exciting and distinct formats. But it’s costly. So, with WattNott, we focused more on the brand and adding cool, playful elements to the bulbs (turquoise screw caps, decorative end prints and some interesting filament configurations) to make them really attractive and distinct. The packaging is full of energy too. For inspiration, we looked at the old light bulb boxes designed with real exuberance when these objects were still exciting, rather than the everyday items they are now. The new technology has made them thrilling again, so we thought we needed the packaging to be a celebration!

Bulb: LED lighting has improved a lot in the last few years. What inspired you to be part of the movement challenging the design and price points of the classic LED bulb?

Nik: When we launched the 001 in 2010, we were the only low energy designer light bulb. It was a compact fluorescent as this was the only format that was economically viable at the time. And even though we pushed the quality and performance of the technology, the lack of dimmability has always been an issue for some buyers. We’ve keenly watched the emergence of new technology and when we started seeing filament LEDs we knew we’d adopt them and offer a range. It's a great solution for omnidirectional bulbs, giving off a nice light but having a really interesting character as opposed to the cold, plastic, diffused conventional LED bulbs.

Bulb: Tell us a bit about the hashtag #GoodDesignForGood and what it means? What are other designers or product that are working in a similar area?

Nik: There are a bunch of companies who are on similar paths to Plumen. Enterprises who have realised that you need to inspire people to change, not just bang a campaigning drum and scream out the bad news, hoping people will change. Companies like Tesla, Nest, Bulb :) and Reformation are all inspiring markets towards more sustainable products and services in their own way. They inspire through their design ethos and their approach to marketing. It’s becoming a movement which can only be a good thing for everyone and everything.