ETC: industry leader in light (and sustainability?)

Electronic Theatre Controls (ETC) has been around since the mid-1970’s, another big time technology company that started in the family garage. In 1992, they introduced the Source Four, and theatrical lighting has never been the same. The instrument was swept up quickly by the industry, providing both design innovation and huge long term cost savings for the user.

While the Source Four is a great lighting instrument for a slew of reasons (trust me, I’ve hung, focused, and maintained hundreds of them over the years), the thing about it that is most exciting for ecoTheater is its energy efficiency. The reason the Source Four is so efficient is pretty simple stuff, really. It replaced the traditional 1000 watt instrument with 750 watt, and later 575 watt instruments, without compromising on lumens. This means a lighting designer can get the same level of illumination, at similar color temperatures, with nearly half the wattage output. It’s not a stretch to say that the Source Four revolutionized theatrical lighting.

The other nice thing about ETC is that though their business–that is, what they manufacture and sell–may not be the most environmentally friendly imaginable, they seem to be doing what they can to promote sustainabilty within their company. They focus on areas that may cost them a bit more, but in the long run they find important to “being a good neighbor,” such as the automated lighting systems in their relatively new facility in Middleton, Wisconsin, recyclable packaging materials, and adhering voluntarily to the EU’s RoHS directive even though they are considered exempt.

The fact that ETC tries hard to remain ecologically responsible is important in helping the theater world head toward sustainability, but what about the lights? What about all that energy they are using? Okay, okay, so the Source Four with its 575 watt lamps has reduced energy use quite a bit, but still, isn’t 575 watts a lot?

Of course, ETC is not going to start jabbering about all of the new technology they have in the pipeline to a journalist like me. But, the hope is that the technology that I’m sure they are cooking up in their R&D department will blow the lid off the industry much like the Source Four did in the mid-1990’s. If their next big thing makes the same level of improvements that the Source Four did, it will be a significant step toward curbing the energy use (and waste) of theatrical production. For now, their lips are sealed. Tom Littrell, ETC’s Fixture Product Manager, will say only that “I can’t tell you what we’re working on with LED’s, but I can tell you that we’re not not working on it.” A diplomatic summation if ever there was.

And that’s fine with me. I understand a corporation’s need to keep trade secrets secret. In fact, if anything, such a non-statement is encouraging because it means they must be up to something. But Littrell also said that as far as he could tell, incandescent lighting technology was going to be around “for a while,” leaving one to wonder why a company that has had such roaring sucess with its Source Four line (which also includes other instruments, including a more efficient and user friendly par) would want to change anything?


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