"Harsh, ugly, blue-tinted." Joshua Ward doesn’t pull any punches when he describes old-school LED lightbulbs. "Products that no one wanted," he concludes, explaining what led him to cofound Tala, the pioneering East London lighting company, with Maxwell Wood and William Symington. When they launched their first LED collection in 2015, they were looking to address a trio of challenges: longevity, carbon emissions, and, above all, design.
The three founders had grand plans to create the low-carbon economy of the future when they first started sketching designs as students at the University of Edinburgh in 2013. But they knew that if they couldn’t convince everyday people to use LEDs, the most sustainable bulb in the world wouldn’t spark a change in consumer behavior.
So they focused on beauty, designing traditional yet appealing bulbs that they market-tested on the most discerning customers: London’s high-end lighting showrooms. The response was overwhelmingly positive. From there, they expanded into more contemporary shapes, such as the extruded forms of "Basalt," a forthcoming line inspired by Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder in Northern Ireland.
With each design iteration, they’ve concentrated on using high-quality, long-lasting materials—favoring glass over plastic, for example—and merging traditional materials and processes with new LED technologies that use 90 percent less energy and last 10 to 15 times longer than incandescent bulbs.
Ward calls the approach "conservation through beauty"—the idea that consumers buy into sustainability through products that are inherently attractive, and not primarily because they’re sustainable.
And yet, Ward acknowledges that Tala produces its own carbon emissions, a problem the company attempts to offset through a rigorous reforestation effort that has resulted in the planting of more than 40,000 trees. As Ward notes, Tala may be design-first, but "sustainability should simply be part of any decent manufacturer’s essential process."
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