…in rural Wales, the radical future of the lighting industry is slowly taking shape. These saplings – growing on a 215-acre site in Monmouthshire – are set to neutralise the CO2 emissions from lighting installations all over the UK. Ray Molony reports on one of the industry’s most ambitious carbon-offsetting schemes

In an area of beautiful countryside called Devauden in Monmouthshire in South Wales stand some 15,000 trees. All are native broadleaf species: oak, birch, ash, willow, hornbeam and cherry. And each has been planted by a lighting manufacturer.

Devauden is the carbon-offsetting programme of Thorlux Lighting, the Redditch-based luminaire maker. It’s an extraordinary move by the company, and one that could point to the future of lighting.

Plant your own

‘We once had a customer that did carbon offsetting using trees,’ explains managing director Mike Allcock. ‘It was set to plant 100 trees to compensate for a lighting installation, but because we supplied a very efficient scheme, this was reduced to 20 trees.

‘Then we started thinking, how could we get rid of the last 20 trees? That’s when we came up with the idea of planting our own trees. And since then we’ve really gone to town on it.’

And how. The company paid £1 million for Devauden, which is 215 acres in total. It received a 50 per cent grant from the Forestry Commission, but it’s still a significant investment for a medium- sized manufacturer.

Currently, Thorlux is planting some 2,500 trees a year to let its customers offset the carbon produced by their lighting installations. Already some 15,000 have been planted, and the site can accommodate a further 135,000.

‘It sounds easy to plant a tree,’ says the company’s managing director Mike Allcock, ‘but it’s not. He has had to hire a silviculturalist (a tree expert) to manage the whole process.

‘The process of sequestering the CO2 in a tree can take 100 years, so we encourage our customers to use the most efficient lighting possible and then offset the remainder [of the carbon].’

Startling statistics

The statistics are startling: over half a kilogram of carbon dioxide is released for every kilowatt hour of electricity used, so a 250W fluorescent luminaire, operating around the clock, will produce one tonne of carbon dioxide every year. To put it into context, a tonne of CO2 is one million pints of the stuff. ‘It’s a huge amount of CO2,’ says Allcock. ‘So to offset that light you need to have a tree in the ground for 100 years.’

A typical sports hall with 25 4 x 54W T5 luminaires can be offset by planting 10 trees. Each tree will offset about one tonne of CO2, or approximately 1,900KWh of electricity.

Thorlux quotes for luminaire prices include quotes for carbon offsetting using the company’s trees at Devauden.

Currently it costs customers £10 a tree, but this is set to be cut to £5. The trees have a catalogue number like a light fitting. Those who opt for the carbon offsetting scheme receive an email detailing the trees they have purchased their location. Thorlux encourages its customers to visit Devauden – and has recently built a visitor centre there to explain the process. Children – some from schools using Thorlux luminaires – are regular visitors to the site to see the trees that are capturing the carbon produced by their classroom’s lighting. ‘It’s a great lesson because it’s something they can relate to,’ says Allcock.

Practicing what it preaches

Thorlux’s factory provides an example of how its carbon- offsetting programme works. The building has been lit for the past 15 years by a combination of twin 58W T8 and twin 70W high-frequency fluorescent luminaires. 

In 2008 it was relit using twin 58W T8 and 49W T5 fittings, this time with the company’s Smart Reflector design and each with its own photocell and PIR sensor, linked in groups.

Annual electricity consumption fell from 314,000 to 186,000kWh. It still, of course, produces CO2, some 99 tonnes a year (compared with 166 tonnes from the previous installation). Thorlux has now planted 99 trees at the site in Devauden, so the installation is carbon neutral.

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