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Dispatches: Santa Cruz Woman Makes First Desk Light From Recycled E-Waste

She worked for big companies for 25 years, and taught classes on being an entrepreneur, but Nancy Wahl-Scheurich's life really changed when she started her own business that reflected her environmental values.

Nancy Wahl-Scheurich knew that the best way to save energy with lighting is by having tight control over it.

Why light an office with energy burning overhead bulbs, she thought, when a good desk light does the job more efficiently and can be turned off when it's not needed?

That's part of what drove her to create the high-end, fashionable Heron desk lamp with a bulb that will last 15 years and a body made from recycled plastics.

Control was important. Control of her product, making sure it was manufactured in the United States. Control of the environment, making sure it was truly, uncompromisingly environmentally sound.

And control of her life and her first startup.

Although for five years she taught college classes in enterpreneurialism at the California State University Monterey Bay, the 53-year-old with degrees in Marketing, Business Administration, Inter-American studies and French, had spent 25 years working for others in marketing software and LEDs.

In 2009 she invested a good chunk of her life savings – $250,000 – to start LittleFootprint Lighting. It's taken three years of research and development to come out with her first product, the Heron.

The lamp, with a suggested retail price of $225 (or $200 through April), uses 7-10 times less energy than a conventional lamp, has a replaceable LED bulb with a 50,000-hour lifespan and is as bright as a 40-watt bulb but uses only 4 watts.

Most importantly to her, it is made in the U.S. from recycled plastic and steel.

"Being my own boss and for instance not having any venture capitalists telling us what to do, I did get to choose to not go the cheapest route," she said. "We will not manufacture this in China. We will not use poisonous stuff. We will not compromise to the point where anything we do is negative to the environment."

Her reseach included a stringent course on how to build homes and buildings with the toughest environmental standards. She got certified in LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, although her focus was mainly on lighting.

That helped her see some real hope in doing things environmentally.

"It was really fantastic," she said. "When you learn about LEED it makes you feel so much better about the possibility that maybe we are going to save the world for our children because there are so many smart people out there doing really incredible things."

There were a lot of hurdles to get exactly what she wanted. First off, there is only one company in the country that recycles ABS plastics, the mix of tough acrylonitrile, butadiene, and styrene used for electronics such as computers, car parts, luggage and protective helmets.

Luckily MBA Polymers was close to Santa Cruz, in Richmond. It does most of its work overseas, but has one pilot plant here. She was impressed with a TED talk given by Michael Biddle, who founded the company and she was happy to think that by using recycled plastic here she could keep it from being dumped in third world countries, the usual dumping ground for U.S. waste.

She got her LED bulbs from a manufacturer in Vermont and the recycled steel base in California. Some things, such as the screws and the electric cord, just aren't manufactured here, she said.

The lamp has some fervent fans, appealing to people for environmental and aesthetic reasons. One writer called it the most inspiring product at the 2011 Greenbuild Conference held in Toronto.

Television editor Jim Eckes, of Sacramento's Big Table Media, said a good desk lamp is an important tool in his work and this was the best.

"As a television editor, I need desk lighting that allows me to work with three, sometimes four monitors without creating too much glare on the monitors," he said.

"While it is a beautiful lamp to look at and fits with my sense of aesthetics, it is very functional and the adjustment capabilities allows me to work with a minimal glare issue.

"Furthermore, my wife and I are very environmentally conscious. We were sold on the manufacturing process the LittleFootprint people used to create the lamp."

While $225 might seem expensive compared to a made-in-China desk lamp, it's on the low scale of prices for good office lamps you'd find in a lighting store, Wahl-Scheurich said.

"We're not just selling this on my values," she added. "It's a really good light."

She has been fulfilled by the feedback and sales and hopes the company will reach companies and government agencies concerned with saving energy and having an attractive fixture.

"What I really like about this is that you can have your values and stick to them. You simply have to know there are enough people out there who believe in it."

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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