Social responsibility is ingrained in every aspect of business and culture at New York-based WAC Lighting. President Shelley Wang, whose family started the company 25 years ago, has taken steps to enhance the company’s care of its employees, manufacturing capabilities, and design sensibilities to ensure it doesn’t stray from the vision her parents had in the beginning.
“Sustainability reaches far beyond the environment for this company and for my family,” said Wang. “Sustainable values begin with caring about your employees, your children, and their children and doing things the right way the first time around.”
When it came to developing WAC’s newest factory in China, Wang and her team designed the site to resemble a campus rather than just a manufacturing facility. Unlike manufacturing sites in the US, in China, it’s common for workers and their families to live on campus. WAC’s campus can house up to 2,400 people, which is considered mid-sized in comparison to others in the country.
Another difference is that while other campuses are mostly poured concrete and focus on making sure much of the property is used for manufacturing, WAC’s campus is focused on creating a healthy living environment for all employees. “Good and talented people who care about the company they work for are a scarcity,” said Wang. “We continue our dedication to doing things right the first time by making our campus both ecologically friendly and centered on a culture of home.”
To start, WAC’s China location is a zero landfill campus, and recycling both in living style and in manufacturing practices is expected. WAC uses mostly powder coat painting as opposed to spray-on paint because it’s a more durable, albeit expensive, process. It’s also 100% recyclable in that anything that doesn’t stick to the lighting fixture is reusable.
WAC die casts aluminum pieces so there is less metal fabrication involved. It also results in a more durable fixture. “When you fabricate, things get punched and molded, and leftovers go back to recycling, but die cast molds ensure the product comes out perfect the first time so there are no leftovers.”
On the lifestyle side, WAC’s China campus houses a wastewater treatment facility onsite, which means it can recycle all of its grey water. And with hundreds of people living in one space, that recycling capability becomes extremely important. “The campus also has gardens, a soccer field, and grassy areas we can care for with that grey water without any additional environmental impact,” Wang said.
WAC’s campus houses a pool that’s open to employees and management alike—another differentiator. “I only know of one other factory with a pool, and it’s restricted to management only,” said Wang. “Our intramural sports programs are very strong as well. We approached the overall development of this campus with a unique mindset.”
The difference in how WAC’s employees view their employer was most clearly illustrated during the ice storms that hit China in 2007 during the Chinese New Year holiday. During this time, most employees travel back to their hometowns to see their families, and although there is typically attrition at this time of year, it hit most manufacturing facilities harder than usual.
A number of factories in the province lost upward of 30% of their employees at this time due to the difficult weather, which made travel practically impossible. In comparison, WAC lost only two of its migrating employees. “From a business perspective, we’ve only seen positive results from investing in our campus and improving the lives of our employees,” said Wang.
For the past few years, WAC has focused on branding the phrase “Responsible Lighting,” an add-on to the overall corporate philosophy of doing things the right way the first time. “There’s a sustainability story in the entire process of what we offer, but there hasn’t been a comprehensive story in the lighting industry like there is in the furniture industry, for example,” said Wang. “We see an opportunity to tell that story in the lighting industry so discerning customers will have an opportunity to make the choices they want.”
Consumers are becoming more aware of the sustainable process behind what they buy, starting with where the product comes from, and even including how far away it was made. WAC can guarantee that nearly 90% of the products it offers were made and fabricated inside its zero landfill, ISO-9001 certified facility, which also includes inhouse UL-approved labs.
For the life cycle of the product, the company stays on the cutting edge of technology to leverage new strategies to meet the increasing energy demands of its customers while being environmentally responsible. The company has developed a number of original LED designs that improve the quality of light using the latest LED technology, as well as increasing the longevity of the product’s life and its size. Advances in technology, engineering, and production make it possible for WAC to offer a five-year warranty.
The LEDme collection includes track luminaries for spot and wall washing applications, as well as light bars and button lights for under-cabinet lighting. There are also LEDme showcase lighting options for retail displays. The collection even cuts down on the wattage being used (a 9W track fixture can replace a 50W PAR 20 lamp, for example).
“Our customers aren’t just concerned with their energy bill,” said Wang. “Say you have merchandise you’re trying to sell. If we only offered you solutions on the energy efficiency side but not on the quality of light, we won’t be helping you improve your business or move merchandise. Utilizing our family owned manufacturing campus, we ensure attractive designs, quality assurance, optimal light output, and energy efficiency.”
Another of WAC’s dynamic inventions is called InvisiLED, a product that lights areas most couldn’t light before due to spacing constraints. The flexible products are 3/32 of an inch thick and a little less than one-half-inch wide. Each piece can be plugged into the next and affixed to the surface using a peel and stick adhesive, and they use only 2W of energy per foot.
Most recently, the firm has added two new systems featuring stunning color changing capabilities. Wang has heard reports back from consumers using these lights in many unique ways because they draw so little energy but still light effectively. In addition, the company is exploring the development of OLED (organic light emitting diodes) and solar lighting technology.
“It’s solving a problem that people didn’t have a solution for previously,” she said. “Creating that kind of a demand is the most exciting part of the process because it invigorates the lighting industry as a whole.”