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Eleek: Lighting That's Eco-Friendly Even When It's Off

Eleek strips miles out of its supply chain and carbon-intensive steps out of its manufacturing. That's good for the embodied energy of its cast aluminum luminaires and other hardware.

Wait a minute. Weren't we criticizing Eleek and its cast aluminum hardware in this blog a few weeks ago? We were--and that sparked a dialogue with one of our readers that led to more discussion with the company, in turn leading us to change our minds, and apologize to them for the rough treatment.

You might think we would have been in love with product lines with 100% post-consumer recycled content, and in a lot of cases (insulation, for example) we would be. In metals, however, high levels of recycling are the norm, and there isn't enough recycled aluminum stock to go around, so buying a recycled aluminum product may still stimulate demand for more mined aluminum. That led us to ask a while back if some recycled content claims should have an asterisk. Also in an energy-consuming product like lighting, the efficacy of the light source is arguably the most important sustainability metric, all other things being equal.

That leads us to Eleek--a company doing a lot to differentiate itself and its products from business-as-usual. First, its products: Eleek is making beautiful hardware with some processes that we think result in products with reduced embodied energy (tailor-made for meeting the 2030 Challenge for Products).

Its products are all made in Portland Oregon, and 80% of the supplies come from within 50 miles of the shop. Most notably, Eleek's Masa cabinet hardware line is made of 100% post-consumer scrap sourced from Portland's ReBuilding Center, a building materials reuse center located less than a mile from Eleek's shop. (See ProjectScrap.org for more.) This means that aluminum scrap collected in the Portland area goes directly to Eleek's foundry to be melted into new products. That cuts out the thousands of miles that scrap normally travels to China and back and also cuts out the melting of scrap into pellet--the commodity that is normally sold to foundries like Eleek's for making products.

Eleek co-owner Sattie Clark emphasized to me that Eleek is primarily a lighting company, however, offering a variety of interior and exterior cast aluminum luminaires. Like the Masa line, these use aluminum scrap, often but not always from the ReBuilding Center. It wouldn't make sense to pair Eleek's luminaires and their reduced embodied energy with electricity-guzzling halogen or incandescent lamps, but with LED or fluorescent lamps, you'd have a winning combination.

Like many product manufacturers, Eleek has a website sporting a Sustainability page, but items they discuss there are unlike many other companies'. Eleek is a B Corporation--the 'B' is for 'benefit.' According to the B Lab website, B Corporations:

  1. Meet comprehensive and transparent social and environmental performance standards;
  2. meet higher legal accountability standards;
  3. and build business constituency for public policies that support sustainable business.

In contrast, conventional corporations are legally obliged to maximize value to shareholders, above all else. We tend to think that corporate transparency is good for the environment, and it's exciting to see a company that seems to be doing well with this ethic.

Posted by Tristan Roberts on March 13, 2012

Comments

Green Mountain College closing the loop

Here's another great example of paying close attention to what happens to your recycling after it leaves your hands. As with trash, so with recycling: there really is no "away," and Green Mountain College is taking responsibility for that.

http://www.environmentalleader.com/2012/03/19/green-mountain-college-to-...

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