“CFLs in America: Lessons Learned on the Way to Market,” published by the Department of Energy (DOE), concludes that technical and quality problems with early compact fluorescents snowballed into major obstacles to acceptance by consumers and retailers.

Without standards and testing, products may be misrepresented by unclear or exaggerated claims about performance. Without uniform terminology to describe performance, distributors and consumers can easily become confused. And if distributors and consumers get a negative initial impression of a technology, it may last for decades.

These lessons were not lost on DOE, which is now working to support adoption of solid-state lighting (SSL), an emerging technology experiencing some of the same adoption pains. In doing so, DOE has engaged the lighting industry in several meaningful ways, from fast-tracking SSL testing standards to launching Energy Star labeling criteria for LED lighting fixtures to reporting independent testing data on LED products on the market.

The idea is to minimize risk and build confidence among specifiers and users while rewarding quality by recognizing it.

In late 2008, DOE and the Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance launched the Quality Advocates Initiative. Participating manufacturers voluntarily pledge to follow certain guidelines and labeling to report performance claims for their products.

Each product is tested under the regime defined by the IESNA LM-79-2008 standard. Once the test data is verified and the product completes its registration, the product can carry the Lighting Facts label. This label provides—in a simple format similar to nutrition labeling—summary performance data covering light output (lumens), power (W), efficacy (lumens per watt), correlated color temperature (K) and color rendering index (CRI) rating.

The higher the lumens, the more light the product emits, while the higher the efficacy, the more efficient it is relative to similar product types.

As for the color metrics, consider that color temperature expresses the color appearance of a light source and the light it emits. Lighting sources are generally classified as cool or bluish-white (>4,000K); neutral or white (3,000K–4,000K); or warm, which appear orangish-white (<3,000K). The CRI rating expresses the effect of the light on an object’s color appearance. For many applications, the higher the CRI the better, with 80–100 being optimal for rendering colors the way most people would expect them.

This simple convention is important because it promotes and rewards more accurate and consistent reporting of product performance. It empowers those who recommend, sell and install lighting to easily compare products. And quite simply, it reminds us to consider a larger story for the product than just its wattage.

However, it does not tell the whole story of the product. For example, the Lighting Facts label currently does not provide a service-life rating (hour). It does not state whether the product can be dimmed and, if so, with what types of dimmers it is compatible. It does not say whether the product is suitable for indoor or outdoor use, or both. And it does not state whether the product is suitable for installation in enclosed spaces or spaces with insulation contact—important for products such as recessed downlights and cove lighting.

In the program’s first year, more than 150 manufacturers took the SSL Quality Pledge, submitting 160 approved products that can be viewed on the SSL Quality Advocates Initiative Web site at www.lighting-facts.com/products. Energy Star-qualified products, Next Generation Luminaires and Lighting for Tomorrow award winners, and products that participated in DOE demonstration projects are highlighted.

To facilitate demand for quality products, the SSL Quality Advocates Initiative also registers lighting professionals and distributors/retailers. More than 45 specifiers, utilities and energy-efficiency organizations have pledged to use the Lighting Facts label to verify the accuracy of manufacturer claims. More than 40 distributors and retailers, including W.W. Grainger, Home Depot and Costco Wholesale, have committed to supporting the program.

Many electrical contractors select lighting as well as install it and, therefore, may be eligible to become SSL Quality Advocates. Doing so will enable them to better protect their customers and themselves from the consequences of selecting and installing poor-performing LED lighting products based on exaggerated, misleading or incorrect sales claims. Be sure to take a little extra time to check the registration number on the label against the product’s listing on the Web site to ensure you are indeed looking at a genuine and not a counterfeit Lighting Facts label.

Additionally, electrical contractors may benefit by encouraging their local electrical distributors and favored LED suppliers to join the program as well.

Note, however, that products featuring the Lighting Facts label may carry a cost premium attributable to a higher level of basic quality, as this is a “get what you pay for” time for LED lighting. And even with the Lighting Facts label, those who select lighting may benefit from seeing how the product performs firsthand by personally evaluating samples prior to full installation.

DILOUIE, a lighting industry journalist, analyst and marketing consultant, is principal of ZING Communications. He can be reached at www.zinginc.com.