Leaf Light, Designed for the Environment...?

Ice-covered roads around Seattle this morning, so killing time and waiting for the sun to come out, I was flipping through the latest Design Within Reach catalog.

Page 55 features the new Leaf Light, Yves Behar for Herman Miller. If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s a wonderful piece of aluminum bending, with a run of LEDs to provide variable lighting scenes. But, as DWR writes, “technology is only half of the story…the other half is sustainability”.

My bullshit meter went off, and I didn’t even have my Espresso Vivace yet.

The LEDs in this thing run for 100,000 hours. The lamp costs $500 plus tax and shipping, comes in three sweet colors, is built by a reputable manufacturer, designed by one of the pre-eminent designers of our generation, and will likely be in design stores and antique-design stores in 50 years.

So Why The Heck would anyone want to re-use, disassemble, recycle, take apart, or throw away this lamp?

Now, I know that end-of-use scenarios are only half the battle, and there are also considerations in DfE for sustainable manufacturing. “The manufacturing of Leaf uses a stamping process that eliminates waste”. But promoting their DfE protocol through products that will sell through limited channels, in limited numbers (I may yet be proven wrong), and for prices that even in 50 years will seem steep for a desk lamp, smells a little like Green-washing.


First, the eye candy:

It’s an OK design. The base looks unresolved to me, and being in the lighting business, I’ve seen alot of LED fixtures that aren’t very far from this for $20-30 retail. Only the wire passage is really something different, at least to me. Plus, LED light is still very blue-cold, even with the best LEDs out there, and the output efficiency is, at best, half that of fluorescent. I hope that the people who shell out $500 are ready for those penalties.

In terms of sustainability, I think it’s still important. A desk lamp like this is going to get banged around alot, and eventually many will get tossed out. Plus, LEDs don’t die like a normal bulb, their output diminishes. Typically, they are so dim after 10,000 hours that people would want to replace them. Here’s the hard part: LEDs don’t have sockets. They are electronic components that are wired into the lamp. Maybe Herman-Miller is prepared with some replacement parts…I doubt it! So, when the bulb is useless and the fixture is scratched, bent and has an erection problem from weakened components, I think alot of these will make it to the dustbin.

This discussion about LEDs is interesting. I don’t know to much about LED lights. So I’m curious if the LEDs used within this product:

are the type that will dim or fade after extended hours of use? Please let me know, because a lot of my friends are swapping out the OEM bulb lights for these LED style brake lights. This could be a major safety issue!

After playing with this light at Neocon, It’s slightly cooler in person than the photo can show.

First off, the led light output color changes from a pretty, clear, icy blue to very soothing warmish yellowish. There’s a touch sensitive slider that controls color and another for intensity. It gets just as bright as any desk lamp I’ve ever used.

The wire vein is cool too. You can’t see it in these photos, but the other side of the leaf, has a piece of molded tpe, or rubber that sits in the recess. When you touch it there is an immediate contrast in feel from the glossy slick plastic to the sticky grippy rubber. It’s kind of like a bulging vein on a fit person.

The tilting and positioning is a little herky jerky like most glassy plastic on plastic stuff is.

As far as DFE, everything Miller does now has to be Greengaurd certified as well as follow Cradle to Cradle protocol, so it’s no joke. i recently finished a seating project with Geiger that I’ll post up here one day and it had all of that stuff considered from the beginning.

Overall, I don’t really like the design, but the features I mentioned are worth checking out.

Good perspective Mr914. A LED replacement/recycling contract should be part of the deal when buying this lamp.

The base does seem unresolved and a bit out of place with the curved/bent elements…as the only round element on the piece. I guess there’s a roundish part at the hinge.

HM applies their DfE protocol to many of their products - a lot of them expensive. I think it’s a good thing - but seems a bit elitist in that you have to get the high-priced stuff to be environmentally responsible.

914, where do you think most of the $500 cost comes from? Is it pure profit for HM?

That’s kind of what i was thinking. I’d like to check it out in person. Those features sound cool. I especial like the idea of changing the temperature of the light.

All the other pictures I’ve seen (including these)I just think it might look like a piece of twisted scrapmetal sitting on my desk amongst pile of other stuff… It looks like a very raw idea that was not visually refined. That can be cool, but I’m not sure this pulls it off in the pictures.

Does any of that change in person Brett?


Car LEDs: You don’t have to worry if you change out your tail lights. The life of the LEDs are 20 times greater than the tungsten-halogen bulbs that are common place. It’s far more likely you will change cars before bulbs.

Price: HM is making a decent profit, for sure. However, from Brett’s comments, it sounds like they really did their homework. The newest, more expensive and difficult to source LEDs are getting a warmer white light. It’s good to see that is what they are using. Also, if this is as bright as a normal desk lamp, they might be using 1W+ LEDs. Those are pricey too. It makes me wish our clients would let us sell a $500 light in their stores…

Environment and the LED: There isn’t much to recycle in a LED. A little acrylic, a small electrode. I think the manufacturing is fairly clean too, although I’m not sure.


No, it stays kind of unresolved in person; like twisted scrap metal as you put it. I kept waiting for it to grow on me, but it didn’t. Still doesn’t.

One detail I forgot to mention was the slight indentation for the touch sensitive slider areas. It sort of looks like two crescent shapes that nest into each other. you can see it in the pics if you look for it.

Worth a trip to DWR to inspect up close nonetheless…

A $500 desk lamp is not “green” unless those $500 were made in a green fashion. If you bought sustainably-farmed food to power your used-bike commute to your environmentally-conscious employmer that payed you with funds garnered from ecologically responsible enterprises, then it’s green. The money has to come from somewhere, and it probably isn’t going to be so green (pardon the pun).

Expensive == NOT GREEN

Expensive == NOT GREEN

Expensive does not preclude a design from being green either. Creating an electronics product that might have a zero on the end of the common price might actually allow the product to transcend time. With that cost might come a recycling program. It quite conceivably turns the product into an heirloom type product.

Sustainable (f**k I hate that buzzword) does not mean it has to be made out of grain fed lemming droppings.

And, based on today’s economy, I would argue that green actually does equal expensive b/c the economics of creating “green” products has not hit the volumes of the easily disposable Litium Ion driven non-recyclable cell phone.

Well of course a design can still be green, but it’s about the whole picture. Money is usually closely tied to energy. My money in the bank is the result of the energy used to go about my daily life and job (food, clothes, transportation, electronics, lighting, heating, etc.). That means that the more expensive something is, the more energy was required to make the money to buy it.

I agree with the previous poster who said that it smelled like greenwashing.

I agree with the previous poster who said that it smelled like greenwashing.

Absolutely. There is no doubt that there is a whole sub-system that goes into being “green”. Its not as cut and dry as making something out of hemp. Its exactly why I can’t stand the term “sustainable”. People slap it onto everything now without thinking what the term really means.

That said, there was a jump in context in your previous statement.

Expensive == Green

When it should have been:

The Leaf Light being expensive == Green

Semantics, but its easy to get off track on the forums when you speak in generalities when really you are referring to a single item.

Now I understand how the pivot works. How conventional. The more I see this lamp, the more ordinary and less interesting it gets:/

i guess one argument to being green is that someone purchasing a $500 desk lamp isnt likely to scrap it and add to landfills anytime soon.

interesting how you could consider perhaps that product life cycle (antique value, collectors value, etc.) part of a holistic green strategy.

not saying they thoug this direction (more likely, its a designer lamp, and limited qtys, must be expensive!), but in retrospect an interesting angle.

IMHO, im not keyed into the aesthetics, and have seen better in both LED and normal desk lamps. looks a little pieced together for my liking. also cant imagine it actually fitting into my desk environment. too much trying to make a design statement i think.


Reduce, Reduce, Recycle is how it goes. If we design better things that last longer, and that people love and want to hold onto/take care of I think we make an bigger impact.

I mean, toasters seem to last like 20 years. Imagine if more things had this capability. Personally I would be willing to spend more, and would take more time to choose a product, if I knew it could be the last one I ever bought. I think with the right marketing and business strategy that idea of “the last x you’ll ever buy” could resonate with some people.


I have seen and used this lamp in person many times. The lamps design is o.k. as is its proformance. There is not much to the lamp that leaves a lasting impression. The most interesting thing about this lamp is the molded clear lense/cover for the LED’s. Even the functionality for operating the lamp seems dated to me. To call this lamp a great piece of design is subject to discussion but for me it is over hyped. Sorry Yves you do good stuff but I am not feeling this one.

The lamp just won another award - this one from CES, a ‘Best of Innovations Design and Engineering Honoree for Eco-Design’ honoree. The blurb on the Herman Miller website includes this statement:

“Leaf was developed according to Herman Miller’s rigorous Design for the Environment (DfE) protocol, emphasizing sustainable processes, materials, and recyclability. Its environmental impact is perhaps most profound through its use. On average, Leaf’s LEDs consume less than eight to nine watts of power, carry a lifespan of over 60,000 hours at the full-power setting and cut energy use by 40 percent compared to a 13-watt compact fluorescent bulb.”

The Herman Miller DfE design criteria parallel the MBDC Cradle-to-Cradle recommendations. These focus on appropriate materials going in, and disassembly and recycleability of the components going out.

But I guess my original point is, $500 is a lot for a desk lamp, about $450 more than the average company will consider spending to outfit an office. To me, the ‘sustainable’ tag would carry more weight if the product was $50, so that it might actually get thrown away at the end of it’s lifecycle. Only Paris Hilton’s gonna throw away her Leaf lamp when she’s sick of it. The rest of us, for whom $500 is like a week of work…well you bet it’s not going to get disassembled and recycled anytime soon.

On the other hand, let’s look at the lifecycle. Suppose it does get trashed in 100 years. Some super cyber space monkey can take it apart, recycle the components. The $50 competitor lamp will still be in the landfill, all it’s valuable constituent materials going to waste.

But at the end of the day, the point becomes moot - if you’re all about sustainability, why make a lamp in the first place? To make a profit, which this lamp most certainly does. You’re still adding to the waste stream.

Sounds a little Edward Norton’s Character in Fight Club. He said …when you buy furniture, you tell yourself: that’s it, that’s the last sofa I’m gonna need. No matter what else happens, I’ve got that sofa problem handled.

Making something more special and more expensive/valuable(?) is an interesting stratagy to keep things from being trashed and ending up on the landfills, but does it really work in practice?

Not to extract all the answers from a movie, but Tyler Durden also says:
“Recycling and speed limits are bullshit,” Tyler said. “They’re like someone who quits smoking on his deathbed.” ~Chapter 16 (of the book)

If anything, this lamp is a work of art because it raises some great questions and makes us think.

Am I the only one who thinks this thing is just plain 'ol “fugly”? It honestly looks like a flimsy piece of junk that should only cost about $10 at Target and yet somehow people are ranting and raving about it! While the features may be nice, if it doesnt look good (especially for $500!!), why would anyone buy it?[/list]

Interesting to see so many responses and comments on green/sustainability etc. It is true in my opinion that the terms are more complex in function and the words are sort of tossed around for marketing purposes or are just not understood by everyone the same way. Part of me thinks the Leaf lamp is a step in the right direction, part of me thinks it is B/S. I saw the lamp at the ICFF last year, and I have to say I liked the ability to control the warmth/coolness of the LEDs and I felt out of phase with the appearance and the “feel” of it. It did not feel “solid” to me. The base of the lamp seemed “tacked-on” and when articulating the arm it felt “wanky”. I do believe the effort in certifying its “greenness” was a large part of this project, but I am wondering about the trueness of that statement. I have a $24 medium base screw in LED bulb in cool and warm. It does not perform the same as the lamp, but it did confirm my suspicion that even a $24 LED bulb can remain cool without special heat sinks or louvred designs. I left my LED bulb on for a day and it felt neutral to touch, so the $500 heat dissipating feature is null in my opinion. So, for a new product, I would not personally $500 for a table lamp that cannot really articulate in many directions. I am skeptical about its greenness as a major award winning feature, as I think reusing an older lamp with LED screw in bulb is probably just as green (and the bulb replaceable to boot)…but credit should be given for their efforts at least.