If energy needs to be saved, there are good ways to do it.
                                                               Government product regulation is not one of them

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Lightbulb Conspiracy Documentary by Cosima Dannoritzer

Updates May 30, July 23, Aug 27, 2012 and Oct 9 2013

As a company summary puts it, "Pyramids of Waste (2010) also known as 'The lightbulb conspiracy' is a documentary about how our economic system based on consumerism and planned obsolescence is breaking our planet down."

While this documentary was aired on European TV channels a year or so ago as an ARTE production, it has also started doing the film festival circuit, and so in recent weeks has gained renewed attention, or indeed new attention, as in North America...

The documentary itself, standard 53 min version with English narration
English narration with options of different subtitles: here (alternative link)
Longer version (1 hour 15 min) in German
At 15 minutes interesting additional info about General Electric USA: Reduction also of flashlight lamp life.... "to not last longer than the batteries used"...
Long version (1 hr 15 min) in French
At 15 minutes interesting additional info about General Electric USA: Reduction also of flashlight lamp life.... "to not last longer than the batteries used"...
Long 1 hr 17 min version now also in Spanish, originally shown April and October 2012 on main Spanish public TV channel: Link to RTVE video
Spanish version also on Vimeo:
Synopsis written by the film's director Cosima Dannoritzer
Once upon a time..... products were made to last. Then, at the beginning of the 1920s, a group of businessmen were struck by the following insight: 'A product that refuses to wear out is a tragedy of business' (1928). Thus Planned Obsolescence was born.
Shortly after, the first worldwide cartel was set up expressly to reduce the life span of the incandescent light bulb, a symbol for innovation and bright new ideas, and the first official victim of Planned Obsolescence. During the 1950s, with the birth of the consumer society, the concept took on a whole new meaning, as explained by flamboyant designer Brooks Stevens: 'Planned Obsolescence, the desire to own something a little newer, a little better, a little sooner than is necessary...'. The growth society flourished, everybody had everything, the waste was piling up (preferably far away in illegal dumps in the Third World) - until consumers started rebelling...
The current throwaway climate - where the latest technology is outdated after a year and electronics are cheaper to replace than to repair – is the basis for economic growth. But infinite consumption is unsustainable with finite resources: With the economy crumbling and consumers becoming increasingly resistant to the practice, has planned obsolescence reached the end of its own life? Combining investigative research and rare archive footage with analysis by those working on ways to save both the economy and the environment, this documentary charts the creation of ‘engineering to fail’, its rise to prominence and its recent fall from grace.
DOXA Festival (more below) review biography:
Cosima Dannoritzer is a filmmaker specializing in history and ecology who has worked for broadcasters in the UK, Germany and Spain.
Her previous films include: Re-Building Berlin (Channel 4, U.K., 1992, Journalism Prize of the Anglo-German Society 1993), Germany Inside Out (BBC, U.K. / YLE, Finland, 2001), If Rubbish Could Speak (TVE, Spain, 2003, awards from 'Ekotopfilm' and The'Green Vision Film Festival') Electronic Amnesia (TVE, Spain, 2006)
Interview with Cosima Dannoritzer about the documentary, in Spanish
Another online TV discussion about the documentary and planned obsolescence can be seen here, Arte TV, choice of French or German. (thank you to Peter at Gluehbirne.ist.org for this)
May 3 article by Matthew Hoekstra in the Richmond Review
Planned obsolescence subject of Light Bulb Conspiracy documentary
A documentary partly inspired by a Richmond author's book screens in Vancouver next week as part of the DOXA Documentary Film Festival.
The Light Bulb Conspiracy, written and directed by Cosima Dannoritzer of Spain, will make its Canadian premiere at the festival. Dannoritzer's 75-minute documentary explores why consumer products don't last, and the concept of planned obsolescence—the deliberate shortening of a product lifespan to boost consumer demand.
Richmond author Giles Slade served as one of the filmmaker's first points of reference. Slade wrote a book on the topic in 2006: Made To Break: Technology and Obsolescence in America.
In an e-mail, Dannoritzer said her idea of making the film dates to her childhood. She remembers her mother, in the 1970s, trying in vain to get spare parts for a broken appliance. "That's when I heard the word 'planned obsolescence' for the first time. Then, a few years ago, I filmed a huge stack of discarded computers in a recycling plant and started wondering how broken they really were, and read all these crazy conspiracy theories about eternal light bulbs and everlasting cars on the Internet."
In 2007, she began probing deeper and interviewed Slade in New York for a few scenes in the documentary. "Book and film have several things in common, but readers of the book can get new stories from the book which are not in the film, and get new stories from the film which are not in the book," said Dannoritzer. The 2010 film centres on a plan among light bulb manufacturers to create short-lasting products in order to increase profits. The film also uncovers the story of an American fire station with an old-fashioned light bulb that's been working for decades and the quest of one man to fix a printer that others suggest he throws out.
An earlier March 2011 review from Apfelkraut.org
The untold story of planned obsolescence
Did you know that the lifetime of light bulbs once used to last for more than 2500 hours and was reduced – on purpose – to just 1000 hours?
Did you know that nylon stockings once used to be that stable that you could even use them as tow rope for cars and its quality was reduced just to make sure that you will soon need a new one?
Did you know that you might have a tiny little chip inside your printer that was just placed there so that your device will “break” after a predefined number of printed pages thereby assuring that you buy a new one?
Did you know that Apple originally did not intend to offer any battery exchange service for their iPods/iPhones/iPads just to enable you to continuously contribute to the growth of this corporation?
This strategy was maybe first thought through already in the 19th century and later on for example motivated by Bernhard London in 1932 in his paper “Ending the Depression Through Planned Obsolescence”. The intentional design and manufacturing of products with a limited lifespan to assure repeated purchases is denoted as “planned/programmed obsolescence” and we are all or at least most of us upright and thoroughly participating in this doubtful endeavor.
Or did you not recently think about buying a new mobile phone / computer / car / clothes / … because your old one unexpectedly died or just because of this very cool new feature that you oh so badly need?
A really well done documentary that provides a comprehensive overview about and a detailed insight into this topic recently aired on Arte and other European television networks. It is entitled “The Light Bulb Conspiracy – The untold story of planned obsolescence” (aka “Pyramids of Waste”, DE: “Kaufen für die Müllhalde”, FR: “Prêt à jeter”, ES: “Comprar, tirar, comprar”) and is a French/Spanish production directed by Cosima Dannoritzer.
Recordings of the movie have been uploaded to various video portals, for example currently available on YouTube in EN/International with Norwegian subtitles, DE, FR and ES. Just the official TV and Internet broadcasts were viewed by over 2,500,000 people. If you like to follow up on some of the documentary’s content, here are the links: The light bulb at the Livermore-Pleasanton Fire Department can be watched here via web cam. Wikipedia has some more information on the Phoebus cartel in English and German. The referenced clip about the tremendous waste of ink by inkjet printers can be found at Atomic Shrimp: “The Dirty Little Secret Of Inkjet Printers”. The software to reset the page counter of various Epson printers can be found here: SSC Service Utility for Epson Stylus Printers. The people that made “iPod’s Dirty Secret” are the Neistat Brothers. The tough guy from Ghana that collects evidences at the dumping grounds to identify the orignators of electric waste is Mike Anane and he also contributed to the report “Poisoning the poor – Electronic waste in Ghana” issued by Greenpeace.
That planned obsolescence may be needed or even is substantial to appease the ever-growing hunger to achieve continuous and distinct economic growth that is natural to nations with advanced economies aka developed (?) countries is one part. The past and present is comprised of numerous advocates and supporters with well-engineered argumentations in favor of this business strategy. But even the ultimate argument gets immediately and indisputably absurd and unreasonable when it comes to the thereby produced waste – the other part of planned obsolescence.
“The Light Bulb Conspiracy” quite clearly showed where this leads to and especially where all the resulting waste is dumped. Let’s keep that in mind while impatiently waiting for the release of the next generation of the iPhone …
Those on Facebook can catch up on news about the documentary and related events, in English, German and Spanish:
The Light Bulb Conspiracy
Kaufen für die Müllhalde
Comprar, Tirar, Comprar
Updated May 30, May 31 (I may expand on this comment over the next few days)
This is one of the planned posts here, in the ongoing "series" about Light bulb lifespan, as introduced the other day with the "Leading a Double Life" post, which also deals with some of the principles involved.
The documentary is well made and researched with interesting information and interviews. It opens the door to all kinds of "sustainability" support, and reviews typically link to sites like "The Venus Project" "Zeitgeist movement" etc.
The documentary also points out how long-lasting Communist bulbs were kept from Western markets, but also how times are changing, so that now Warner Philips, grandson of the Philips founder, is turning to making LED bulbs "that last 25 years".
The 2 main issues are therefore
# how one might make sure that longer lasting light bulbs and other products are made
# whether one should only make durable sustainable products "to stop consumerist waste"
To begin with, while the Phoebus cartel was certainly detrimental to consumers (http://ceolas.net/#phoebuspol), the point is not "how bad capitalism is" - it is how bad any lack of competition is.
Quality as well as lifespan arises from market competition.
One of the common misconceptions is that "Capitalism is about Free Markets". But both Capitalists and Socialists dislike Free Markets! Certainly the Competition that is, and should be, at the heart of Free Markets. That is why, yes, state intervention is good: To initially help new inventions to market - but not to continually support them. That means that long lasting as well as short lasting products would be available.
As covered in the previous post, short lasting products - have advantages too: Not everyone will live in one place, or use products a lot. Moreover - with say computers or cars - people want new products for their new features, new innovations and possibilities. With light bulbs there are, as said, even specific advantages to shorter lasting bulbs, in that they tend to be brighter.
Obviously though, whatever the product, the more parts that can be recycled, the better, alternatively, that some products are refurbished and kept going for poorer local or third world consumers.
To ensure lack of dumping is therefore the point - not just to make longer lasting products!
Quality long lasting products - appropriately guaranteed (warrantied) - will always be more expensive, as otherwise the maker makes no profit. Competition keeps the price, and profits, down, and of course also forces manufacturers into market research to satisfy consumer desires, with lifespan as other with other characteristics. Regarding often-replaced products, notice how long lasting batteries and washing up liquids are marketed and sold. People are not stupid: Relevant long-lasting products will always be bought.
As mentioned, the documentary brings in the grandson of the Philips founder, Warner Philips, and how he with his company Lemnis Lighting is making "more environmentally friendly 25 year lasting LED bulbs". Of course these much more profitable complex expensive patented bulbs, is what the Phoebus cartel companies Philips, GE, Osram etc are making too, having lobbied for and achieved a ban on simple incandescent bulbs, as covered and documented on Ceolas.net.
One should not be lost on the sustainability irony, in terms of what used to be very simple locally made bulbs that you can make in your garage (and some pretty literally do: check out carbon filament light bulb maker Bob Kyp in Florida), incandescent bulbs which also can be made long lasting as the documentary says, now being banned. Such long lasting bulbs (up to 20 000 hours lifespan at relatively low cost) which before were kept for mining and other industry, now reaching ordinary consumer markets in post-ban Europe, to the annoyance of the EU Commission, as covered in other posts! (How terrible if people can buy what light bulbs they want). Instead, the desired development by politicians and major companies crying about their new-found "environmental values", is for complex, less known, less safety proven and rare earth mineral exhausting CFL or LED bulbs to be shipped around the world on bunker oil fuelled ships and have unlikely-followed recycling mandates put on them.... and, even more ironically, to marginal if any overall energy savings as referenced.
As for the lifespan values that underlie the documentary, it is again hardly surprising that advertised "Long lasting CFLs and LEDs" are not that long lasting at all, from ever more reviews and criticism arising: Not just because of the dubious lab specifications used (unrelated to real life use, see Ceolas.net site regarding CFL and LED specifications used) - but also out of necessity of manufacturers to make a profit, and a lack of competition from banned cheap lighting alternatives leaves the way open for a double whammy of expensive and shorter-lasting-than-supposed replacement products.
Thank you, politicians and bureaucrats.
How Regulations are Wrongly Justified
14 points, referenced:
Includes why the overall society savings aren't there, and even if they were, why alternative policies are better, including alternative policies that target light bulbs.


Anonymous said...

Interesting, also Bulb Fiction documentary deals with it - like the Long Lasting Binninger bulb that was never manufactured
Sven K.

Lighthouse said...

Thanks Sven, see link to Bulb Fiction in the
Resource links page:
Bulb Fiction English version
Planning to do post on them.
Covered a bit about them already on post about "Heatballs", with photos etc

Andy - Nebraska said...

Always thought cartel just a myth.
One of those sayings like "they could make an everlasting bulb if they wanted to"

Anonymous said...

interesting thank you very comprehensive

Halogenica said...

I watched this documentary when you first posted this. Had no time to comment then but I thought it was rather stunning, as it confirms my impression that the bulb ban really *is* a conpiracy and it puts the lighting cartel in a historical perspective that I didn't have.

Thanks for bringing attention to this important film! Very interesting information about the filmmaker's background as well. The documentary was actually aired on Swedish TV on May 15th!

Pity it only covered the historical conspiracy and not the current. These two need to come together for it all to make sense.

Also a pity that the filmmaker didn't see through the LED bs, but instead portrayed the young Philips as somehow breaking with tradition, when we all know that the 25 years life is probably as reliable as the CFL claimed life rate has been... and that Philips is still spearheading the ongoing conspiracy.

Lighthouse said...

Thanks Halogenica..
"Pity it only covered the historical conspiracy and not the current. These two need to come together for it all to make sense."
>> good point

"Also a pity that the filmmaker didn't see through the LED bs, but instead portrayed the young Philips as somehow breaking with tradition, when we all know that the 25 years life is probably as reliable as the CFL claimed life rate has been... and that Philips is still spearheading the ongoing conspiracy."
>> Yes, the "LEDS are the great new alternative" is seen more and more online, I am getting plenty of email spam about it too.
Yet the pushed cheap "white Leds" basically imitate CFLs in light quality and spiky spectrum output, given the phosphorescent coating light source - and as with CFLs 100W+ equivalent omnidirectional brightness remains a problem, ironic with those incandescent bulbs being the first to be banned!

Lighthouse said...

Update Comment:

RE Halogenica: "Pity it only covered the historical conspiracy and not the current. These two need to come together for it all to make sense."

See Halogenica's own subsequent
tying together of light bulb manufacturer activities past and present, July 25 and other Greenwashing Lamps posts

Hiram said...


A piece I wrote on this

Lighthouse said...

Thanks Hiram,

Built-in Obsolescence, or How Consumerism Beat Genius

As you say, the makers could have made the incandescents longer lasting.

Planned obsolescence is in my view best solved by increasing competition.

But short lasting products like some light bulbs are also justified and not as directly linked to waste as the documentary would have it - the point is to look after the waste, to recycle properly etc, rather than just have long lasting products - there are many advantages and uses also of products that don't last, and they are nearly always cheaper.

Computers and software though, as soon as something begins to seem OK, lo and behold like you say an "upgrade" is needed with bad initial versions, but the upgrading has to be done for all the ancillaries (themselves "upgraded") to half-function and so on...

Bill Christian said...

The story of the Phoebus Cartel conspiracy is completely wrong. It was done to save consumers money and save environmental damage. Let me explain. It is simple and inexpensive to make a bulb with a much longer life than 1000 hours. But it is stupid. A 100 watt bulb uses $10.44 in electricity in a month (at 15 cents/kwh) and costs 36 cents in bulb cost (if it cost 50 cents). Design it to last 10,000 hours, and one month's bulb cost drops by a factor of ten to 3.6 cents. But it will use about 145 watts instead of 100. That's how it lasts longer. Very simple and unavoidable science. So it will use $15.87 for electricity in one month. And burn hundreds of pounds more coal to make the electricity. This is not "planned obsolescence", it is saving money and natural resources. Surprise!

Lighthouse said...

Thanks Bill
Certainly, as said, there is a gradual tradeoff in lower brightness
However, as the documentary also points out (and is expanded in other Phoebus cartel explanations you can see via this or other sites) that only kicks in after 5000 hours or more.
Moreover, long life has advantages of its own, regarding changing bulbs etc
Moreover, a low purchase price is advantageous for most little used bulbs in typical 25-40 EU/US households - hardly all bulbs are of type "100 watt bulb uses $10.44 in electricity in a month"
Utility companies have been compensated and raise prices with reduced electricity use etc as per below link

So, manufacturers collaborated to multiply reduce consumer choice of incandescent bulbs (including keeping out cheap longlasting varieties from communist states), a choice further reduced by banning such bulbs.
Besides, manufacturers hardly care about the energy usage and cost you elaborate on - rather their own sale profits.

Ultimately it is up to governments to ensure consumer choice and set energy policies.
The "burning lots of coal" does not hold up either, given the off-peak time of use and base loading power plant operative factors involved
See the linked "How Regulations are Wrongly Justified":
under Energy
Other issues you mention are also covered in other points, and referenced.