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Harry Verhaar

25 March 2013
Harry Verhaar

Harry Verhaar, Senior Director Energy & Climate Change, Philips Lighting, shares his views on switching to a more sustainable world ahead of Earth Hour 2013, when on Saturday March 23, a large part of the global community will switch off their lights for a better future. 

What does it take to switch the lights off during and beyond Earth Hour?

HV: This Saturday March 23, a large part of the global community will switch off the lights during Earth Hour 2013. Switching off the lights – for the 7th time – during Earth Hour certainly has a symbolic meaning in various ways.

At the end of the 19th century electric light was the first mass electric appliance, with the incandescent light bulb a symbol for progress on the doorstep to the 20th century. From that moment on, artificial light has played an important role in the industrial revolution that has brought unprecedented socio-economic progress in a number of countries and regions in this world.

Is the switch reflective of a return to the darkness of the pre-industrial age?

Here lies another important meaning of Earth Hour, of which the motto is “Uniting people to protect the planet”.

The current economic crisis, climate science as well as growing social inequalities, tell us that we cannot continue our wasteful and resource intensive ways. This is not only too high a burden on the quality of our living environment, but also a heavy burden on our (energy) budgets, be it at household, corporate, city or national level. In fact if we do not switch to more energy-efficient innovative solutions, we will quickly see the day that we really have to switch-off the lights, as well as cease to enjoy many other energy consuming ‘services’ that a century of economic progress has provided (TV, cars, holidays, internet).

We are at a tipping-point in the history of human progress. The good news is that smarter efficient solutions exist, and that if we massively make the switch we can continue to enjoy the fruits of prosperity, in a more equitable and sustainable way.

Is switching a light bulb enough?

Wasting less does not just mean switching a bulb. It is a combination of ‘doing things smarter’, varying from preventing light pollution (using better optics, bringing light only where needed), using smart controls (to switch off office lighting when nobody is there – or the last overtime worker has fallen asleep) and dimming (the streetlights when traffic is low). All in all this can save up to 80% or 90% of electricity for lighting while keeping the lighting service available. This is highly relevant as lighting represents 19% of global electricity consumption. On a global level savings amount to €128 billion in reduced electricity bills, vastly reduced investments in energy generation as we will be able to save 640 power plants (thus reducing public deficits) and 670 million tons of carbon dioxide.

It took around 100 years before we massively started switching the old energy guzzling incandescent light bulb for compact fluorescent lamps, and the speed of the LED-revolution shows that the next switch could be done ten times faster in the current decade up to 2020.

Can we make the switch and revolutionize our habits as society?

Encouragement can be found by realizing ourselves that we are in the process to switch to less wasteful and smarter solutions. The switch is however not happening fast enough. We should be able to increase momentum by not only speaking ‘carbonish’ or emphasizing energy and money savings as the only important benefits.

In my view we can increase momentum by talking about and sharing the real tangible social benefits, on how such solutions are having a positive impact on the quality of our lives. A certain level of streetlighting increases our sense of safety, and reduces crime. Good lighting at our workplace stimulates productivity without people having to work ‘harder’ and equally creates attractive ambiences at home at a fraction of the energy consumption of old technologies. And smart lighting will automatically dim or switch off when nobody is around.

What will such a more sustainable world feel like?

My view is that an hour on such earth will feel like a welcome break to take a breath (from all crises we are in), a week will feel like a holiday, and a full and massive switch will feel like a pathway into a brighter future where people have united to protect our planet, making it more enjoyable to live, work and play on the way!

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