Greenlite shines in energy conservation

By Warren Perley

Photo: Warren PerleyNina Gupta (centre), president of Greenlite Lighting, with her father, B.K., and her mother, Priya.

Knowing her family history, it should come as no surprise that Nina Gupta, founder and president of Greenlite Lighting Corporation, has evolved into one of Canada's staunchest advocates of energy-efficient lighting.

Nina, who prefers to be called by her first name, routinely puts in 60-hour weeks to spread the message that every Canadian can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by replacing incandescent light bulbs with energy-efficient ones known as Compact Fluorescent Lights or CFLs.

Energy conservation has been a priority of the Gupta family ever since Nina's father, B.K. - himself a dynamic entrepreneur in his native India - flew over Osaka, Japan 20 years ago and was shocked by the vista of garish city lights illuminating the night skyline. “The light was pervasive, like running water,” he recalled in a recent interview.

B.K. decided then to sell the family steel business and get into the manufacture of lighting products. By 1989, he had set up a joint venture in India with Phoenix Electric of Japan, producing halogen headlights. One year later, he set up a production line for CFLs.

His daughter, Nina, who spent part of her teenage years in Montreal attending the privately-run Trafalgar School for Girls, returned to Montreal in 1978 to begin a career as an assistant fashion buyer at Le Chateau before moving on to retailer Limité Boutiques.

Within six years, she had opened her own three-store retail chain of women's wear called Taranas. She also found time to get married, take out Canadian citizenship and have two children - a daughter, now 19 and a son, 16.

She sold Taranas in the early 1990s and took a brief sabbatical to raise her children before heading back into the business that her family had pioneered in India - the manufacture and marketing of CFLs. But Nina had her eye on the North American, not the Asian, market.

Photo: Warren PerleyGreenlite Lighting, nominated two years in a row as one of the three best-run companies in Quebec as part of the 50 Best Canadawide contest, prides itself on the esprit de corps of its staffers. Pictured left to right, back row: Nordia Campbell, Dawn Auchstaetter, Serge Bensimon, Anna Dimou, Rana Assi. Middle row: Satish Kumar, Lois Buckingham, Angela Kesler. Front row, kneeling: Lisa Khoury, Susan Haggar.

Starting with one employee and 1,200 square feet of leased space, she founded Lamptronics, a company which operated initially as the North American marketing arm for her family's CFL manufacturing plant in India. With the blessing of her family and with just a handful of employees, she reinvented Lamptonics as Montreal-based Greenlite Lighting Corporation in 1996, changing its mandate to set up associated production lines in China, importing CFLs for Canada and the U.S.

Her push into CFL production could not have come at a better time for the U.S. government, which in 1998 implemented its Federal Energy Management Program with a mandate to improve energy efficiency at federal sites, requiring them to reduce their energy use by 35 percent by 2010, compared with 1985 levels.

As the largest single energy consumer in the U.S., the federal government is a major client for CFLs partnering with state utilities which make subsidies available to convert the estimated 4 billion sockets in American homes to energy-efficient lighting.

As a result, Greenlite's sales have rocketed from US $300,000 in 1996 to US $30 million in 2007 to what is expected to be US $50 million in 2008, company officials say. With a staff of under 25 employees in Canada and the U.S., the privately-held company is planning to go public in 2008 with an IPO and an initial market capitalization expected to be in the range of US $120 million.

Greenlite is dedicated exclusively to manufacturing energy-efficient products, unlike some of its competitors whose principal businesses still centre around the energy-guzzling incandescent commercial bulbs first produced by Thomas Edison in 1880.

Focus on education

Nina's main focus these days is on educating Canadians about the environmental benefits of using CFLs. “We've abused our electricity resources,” she said in an interview. “We're here to help Canadians become more conscious about conserving energy through use of CFLs. I don't care which company they buy their products from; I just want to see Canadians make the switch to CFLs. “Nina confirmed that Greenlite is creating the Greenlite Foundation with a mandate to set aside 10 percent of company profits to help the needy in India. “Money is a byproduct of a successful business,” she says. “There is enough in this world for everybody if we can learn to respect and share all its resources.”

Greenlite is also setting up a fund this year for seminars, trade shows, symposia and other educational material to increase awareness among Canadians about energy conservation. People lined up eight deep at Greenlite's booth at a Green Living conference in Toronto last April as staffers answered questions about CFLs and gave out free samples.

The educational aspect was on full display in New York once again a month later at Light Fair, the largest lighting trade show of its kind in North America, where Greenlite was the only lighting company which did not display its many CFL products which are Energy Star certified by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) based on quality control criteria. Instead, Greenlite staff disseminated pamphlets on how energy-efficient lighting can help “defeat global warming.”

The statistics on that point are impressive. The E.P.A. says that every CFL can prevent more than 450 pounds of emissions from a power plant over its lifetime.

The E.P.A. and the U.S. department of energy have issued reports stating that if every American home replaced just one incandescent light bulb with an Energy Star certified CFL, the U.S. would save enough energy to light more than 2.5 million homes for a year. Such a transition would prevent greenhouse gases equivalent to the emissions of nearly 800,000 cars - mainly due to less pollution from power plants.

In order to qualify for Energy Star status, Greenlite's CFLs must:

  • Use at least 2/3 less energy than standard incandescent bulbs to provide the same amount of light
  • Last up to 10 times longer
  • Save $30 or more in energy costs over each bulb's lifetime
  • Generate 75 percent less heat than incandescent light bulbs so that they're safer to operate and can cut energy costs associated with home air conditioning
  • Turn on instantly, produce no sound and fall within a warm colour range or be otherwise labeled as providing cooler colour tones
  • Be available in different sizes and shapes to fit in almost any fixture for indoors and outdoors

Less is more

A 13 watt CFL sheds the same amount of light as a 60 watt incandescent bulb and a 23 watt CFL is equivalent to a 100 watt incandescent bulb in terms of light output known as “lumens.” This is due to the fact that incandescent light bulbs are inefficient with 90 percent of their energy coming in the form of heat from the wire filaments inside the bulb.

In contrast, CFLs rely on a gas-filled tube and an electronic ballast which sends an electric current through the gas causing it to emit ultraviolet light which excites a white phosphor coating on the inside of the tube. This coating emits visible light in a narrow frequency range.

Nina, whose company credo is “Change a bulb, change the world,” is optimistic that Canadians are going to become as conscious about conserving electricity as are Americans, who have been subjected to rolling blackouts in recent years, especially in heavily populated states like California, where Greenlite maintains a distribution centre and sales office.

Canadian statistics support her optimism. Some 29 million CFLs were imported into Canada in 2006 - almost all of them from China - an increase of 13 million compared with 2004. Some 70 percent of 12 million Canadian homes have replaced at least one incandescent bulb with a CFL.

“That one bulb change per Canadian household represents an energy saving of $73 million every year,” Nina said. If a Canadian household switches over completely to CFLs it could save between $200 and $300 a year in electricity costs, she added. An average Canadian household now spends about $600 annually for lighting costs.

Last April 25, Canada announced it is phasing out incandescent bulbs by 2012. Australia announced last Feb. 20 that it would ban the sale of incandescent bulbs by 2010.

In fact, the switchover to CFLs is a worldwide phenomenon. The European Union, numbering 27 countries, announced last March that it plans to cut carbon emissions by 20 percent by 2020, partially by switching over to CFLs from incandescent bulbs by 2009.

Illustration: Rana AssiGreenlite Lighting sells strictly energy-efficient lighting products, such as Compact Fluorescent Lights. Energy-guzzling incandescent light bulbs are not part of its product mix.

Cuba, with little fanfare, banned incandescents in the fall of 2005. Russia is urging its citizens to use CFLs. Ironically, China - which manufactures 70 percent of the CFLs used in Asia, Europe, North and South America - is itself in its infancy in the use of CFLs because of their high price and the lack of government incentives and the dearth of domestic regulation of the lighting industry in that country.

The World Bank issued a study in November 2006 which said that worldwide grid-based lighting is responsible for 19 percent of total global electricity consumption with annual greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to 70 percent of the emissions of the world's passenger vehicles and three times more than aviation emissions. It went on to say that by 2030 developing countries will account for 60 percent of global lighting electricity demand.

The European Union, Japan, New Zealand and Taiwan have joined Canada and Australia in voluntarily accepting the EPA's Energy Star program as the international standard for energy-efficient lighting.

The major impediments up to now in making the switchover have been lack of information for consumers and the high cost of CFLs. An incandescent 60 watt bulb can cost as little as 69 cents at the retail level, compared with between $1.65 and $2.50 for a comparable CFL. Ten years ago, CFLs retailed for about $6 each.

If one takes into account that a CFL lasts 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb and uses two-thirds less energy, the consumer ends up a winner from the point of view of costs.

In an effort to encourage consumers to switch over to CFLs, utilities across Canada, including Hydro Quebec, are working with retailers to offer rebates to consumers who buy Energy Star CFLs such as those made by Greenlite. The program known as Energy Wise offers a 50 percent rebate up to a maximum saving of $25 per household on the purchase of CFLs.

Retailers are also starting to commit to CFLs, which have been around since they were introduced to the market in 1979 by Philips Electronics Ltd. The first models 28 years ago were ungainly, took several seconds to light up and often did not fit traditional fixtures. Since then, CFLs have been reduced in size, price and the time it takes to light up thanks to their magnetic ballasts being replaced with electronic ballasts.

Nina says it is now the turn of Canadians to step up to the plate and set an example for the rest of the world in energy conservation starting with the use of CFLs. She would like to see every Canadian household using CFLs within two years, rather than waiting until the 2012 date set by the federal government to phase out incandescent bulbs.

“But that involves education, distribution and price issues,” she said. “Within five years, we hope to have a price point of $1 for a CFL without needing any government subsidies.”

Warren Perley, a former career journalist, is president of Ponctuation Grafix, a marketing and graphic design studio (