The New Zealand inventor of a bright blue bath for your eyes says yes. Here’s why.
As soon I push the button to turn it on, the questions begin. “What’s this?” a series of colleagues ask as they pass my desk. I’ve never felt so popular. People who’d barely spoken a word to me were suddenly stopping by for regular chats. “What are you doing?”
When I tell Ralph Booth this, he laughs. “That was part of why I made it the way it is,” says the founder of Loop, an oval desk lamp that bathes office dwellers in a strong sky-blue glow all day. “It’s one of those conversations that needs to start happening, because they’re important conversations.”
The conversation that the Nelson-based lighting expert and industry veteran is trying to start is about light – the good kind, and the bad. He’s concerned we’re spending too much time in windowless offices, hammering away at keyboards, staring at monitors, phones and tablets while bathed in bright florescent bulbs – bad light.
He’s got the stats to back it up. In one survey, Booth found 40% of respondents across Australasia and the UK said they didn’t have any windows allowing natural daylight to enter their workspace. Their only light source was from the bright florescent tubes hanging over them. Not getting enough blue sky and natural sunlight can lead to a raft of health problems including insomnia, obesity, diabetes, cardiac disease and dementia, he says.
“Light,” Booth says, “has an impact on human health.” So, he designed something that resembles a retina scanner off Star Trek’s Starship Enterprise to try and do something about it.
The good light, says Booth, the founder of lighting manufacturing and installation company Good Energy, is the kind you get from being outside. He’s been big on the topic ever since his wife got leukemia 10 years ago. “She ended up in isolation wards in hospital for months,” he says. “I knew that the lighting wasn’t attuned to her biology.”
So, Booth dived in. He found studies that show light has a direct correlation to how the human body operates. “Every living cell has circadian rhythms, which is your body clock,” he says. “They have periods of rest and periods of action. And the only thing that aligns them to the day-night cycle is exposure to light.”
He wondered if buildings could be designed to include more daylight, or have their florescent lights swapped out for healthier ones. He found a combination of apathy and prohibitive cost issues standing in the way. Fewer than 0.5% of buildings in Aotearoa protect human circadian health, he says, and it’s very expensive to retrofit healthy light bulbs.
Booth wondered: “Could I just actually put a piece of blue sky on the corner of everyone’s desk?”
So he started the company Osin, and released its first product, Loop. Launched in November, his oval desk lamp offers users exactly that. A Loop sits on your desk, emitting a blue glow by day, then slowly morphing into a glowing amber at night. That, he says, is to help night-time office dwellers also get the kind of light they need to promote healthy sleep. Loop’s website claims users may notice benefits immediately, including increased productivity and energy. Realigning circadian rhythms can take up to 10 days, it says.
Does it really work? There’s plenty of research out there that suggests blue light can do exactly what Loop claims it can. The conclusion of a 2011 investigation by Christian Cajochen, the head of the Center for Chronobiology at the University of Basel, suggests office space designers include the colour blue as much as possible to increase productivity and promote better sleep. An Auckland-based sleep expert recently told Booth that his Loop was the best product she’d used, and was recommending it to all her clients. One Australian-based CEO claimed to be getting three hours extra sleep a night thanks to a Loop.
After two weeks of using a Loop, I don’t notice any discernible change to my sleep patterns (though it should be noted The Spinoff office has plenty of windows and natural light already). But I do feel calmer and more alert at the end of each day that I use it. One recent Tuesday, after working from home for the day, I realised I may even be missing my Loop a little bit. Or maybe I just missed the constant conversations – and gags – whenever it’s switched on.
Loop’s launch comes at a tricky time. Its $499 price tag is likely to be prohibitive for most when a cost of living crisis continues to bite. And after Covid, many office dwellers still work from home for at least part of their week. There, they’re already likely to be getting the kind of good light Booth is such a fan of, whether it’s through the window of their spare room or during lunch time walks.
At 2Degrees’ gleaming new head office in central Auckland, all the latest office mod-cons have been installed, including monitored air filtration systems, acoustic panelling, even a foraging garden for lunchtime snacks. But even at the country’s most holistic building – one of only a handful in Aotearoa to receive a Well building certification – they didn’t bother installing the kind of blue lights Booth is talking about. “The general lighting is LED,” confirms a spokesperson, who says the indoor staircase was painted blue to match the 2Degrees logo, not to make people feel calmer.
Booth admits he has plenty of work to do. It comes back to starting those conversations, he says. He has five staff working on Loop, all spreading the message about circadian rhythm health. Since its launch, he’s sold 200 of them, shipping them off all around the world. The feedback? “It’s overwhelming,” he says. “They’re noticing that it’s making them feel somehow calmer and happier.” Very few have used the product’s 30-day money-back guarantee.
He claims to be the first person to design a piece of blue sky that sits on your desk designed to make you feel good, and has patents to protect his product. But Booth’s ultimate aim is to permanently alter building designs, giving all office dwellers access to the kind of blue light he says they need to thrive.
Of course, this would render his his Loop product obsolete. But that, Booth says, would mean he’s done his job. “If I’m totally honest with you,” he says, “a product like the Loop shouldn’t need to exist.”