The American Lighting Association’s mission and outreach, and how they are providing lighting education and information at the consumer level in a changing industry.

Q. What is the ALA—its mission, membership? What kinds of education outreach do you do? What role do you play in product quality control?

A. The American Lighting Association (ALA) is a lighting trade association whose more than 1,300 members are lighting retailers, manufacturers, designers, manufacturers’ representatives, and distributors of products for residential lighting. Its mission is to protect and advance the lighting industry while promoting the sale and application of quality lighting products. Members are located in the U.S., Canada, and the Caribbean.

Education, particularly for retail members, has long been a significant part of ALA efforts. There is a complete program of lighting product and application certification for beginners through the professional level. Those programs are available online, in printed form, and through classes available at the regional and national levels. Credentials are awarded for completing the programs, as well as growing and maintaining competence.
The ALA is a member of the Alliance To Save Energy and other organizations that work to improve product efficiency and performance, and is a strong supporter of Underwriters Laboratory and the Canadian Standards Association who write standards and test and certify lighting products for electrical and fire safety, and, increasingly, lighting performance.

The ALA also has a consumer outreach program aimed at providing homeowners with information about the latest styles and trends in lighting through a series of articles and videos. Additionally, ALA and Better Homes and Gardens produce the only national consumer lighting magazine in the industry. The magazine Lighting is in its seventh year of distribution throughout the U.S. and Canada.

Q. How has the lighting landscape changed in the last decade? What can we expect in the future?

A. It’s a time of rapid change for the lighting specifier and consumer and that change will continue for several years. Residential lighting is becoming more energy efficient, new LED products are appearing, and there is a new emphasis on lighting products and applications for growing consumer demographics such as the elderly.


An important change is the increased interest in lighting controls not only as a way to make lighting better suit the needs of the user, but also to reduce energy use without compromising the amount or quality of light that people want. But it’s also a time, because of the phase-out of many traditional lamp products, where the consumer wants to know more about lighting and the ALA is responding to that via marketing and an enhanced consumer outreach. Check out the web site of the LUMEN Consortium, for example, at

Q. What do consumers need to know about emerging technology like LEDs and CFLs? How about other lighting technologies?

A. That would take an article of several pages, but certainly consumers need to know that “lumens” rather than “watts” are the key to understanding how lighting affects the way they see. And when they select lamps for their home, they need more than the information on the carton to make a wise choice. Right now, providing lighting education and information at the consumer level is a major opportunity for the industry in my view.

Q. What is the best way for a homeowner to find a lighting designer to help them work on their home?

A. Consumers can contact the ALA for referrals. Start at the ALA website:

But, an even better way is to simply to walk into a local ALA member showroom. Many have trained lighting designers on staff or they will refer consumers to local professionals. Showrooms increasingly have vignettes or galleries where lighting can be experienced and compared in room or furniture settings to help consumers better understand what lighting can do for their homes as well as what the products look like. Another source for lighting designer referrals is the National Lighting Bureau ( There’s a “Search for a Lighting Designer” option on the home page of their site.

Q. What trends are you seeing in residential lighting design?

A. LED fixtures and even OLED fixtures are appearing in showrooms and consumers are interested in what they can do. They’re intrigued by the changes that they see on the retail lamps shelves and they want to know the “value” story. “Sweet spots” for certain applications such as residential downlighting have developed for LED products. As a result, there’s a strong trend to replace existing downlights using LED retrofit kits. The industry is enthusiastically looking for and participating in other similar product and market opportunities. However, the trends in residential lighting remain firmly based on the appearance of the lighting products: shape, finish, materials, color, and style influence those trends. The lighting “markets” and, particularly, the Dallas markets in January and June, are the place to see those trends in action.

Terry McGowan is the principal of his own lighting consulting business, Lighting Ideas, Inc. in Cleveland Heights, Ohio. He also acts on behalf of the American Lighting Association as their Director of Engineering. From 1999 through 2002, Terry was the Director of the Lighting Research Office for the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI). He is a Fellow of the Illuminating Engineering Society and the 2009 recipient of the IES Medal Award in recognition of his work as a lighting educator, researcher, and author. His lighting career involves more than 50 years of experience primarily with GE Lighting in Cleveland where he retired as manager of the GE Lighting Institute in 1998.

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