GreenLight Alliance: Ever-increasing Circles

Emilio Hernandez, Chairman, GreenLight Alliance

In the first of a series of articles following the activities of a growing number of sustainability practitioners within our industry, arc introduces the GreenLight Alliance: a new organisation with a mission to move towards a more Circular Economy.

As chairman of the GreenLight Alliance I recall fondly regular evening discussions with fellow lighting designers and some like-minded manufacturers, component suppliers and clients turning into a more solid organisation in the second half of last year. Through our personal concerns and client requests for information on products’ environmental impacts, we quickly reached a consensus on what we found lacking in our industry and how this should be addressed.

What?

“The stakes on climate change couldn’t be higher than they are right now,” Biden’s climate envoy, former Secretary of State John Kerry said in January 2021. Every day evidence is mounting. The communities we serve are demanding change (a recent UN poll concluded that 2/3 (even higher in EU, Canada and Australia) of the global population consider it a “climate emergency” and would support significant changes). The Circular Economy is pivotal.

What do we mean by Circular Economy? The predominant economic model illustrated in figure 1 is one of ‘take, make, waste’. This linear consumer model is known to be a large contributor to the climate crisis we find ourselves in the middle of. 

Why?

The imperative on our industry to seek out the optimum balance between cost, in-use energy, aesthetic and ergonomic designs is already accepted. There is some way to go, particularly when it comes to harvesting the latest benefits of controls and sensors, but this is territory we are relatively well versed in and able to quantify. When it comes to the Circular Economy, understanding the impacts of embedded carbon, mineral finality, obsolescence avoidance and service logistics we are still in the foothills. 

There are some standards in place like the EN 4555x series and some legislation coming, like the Commission Regulation (EU) 2019/2020, which lays down eco-design requirements for light sources and separate control gear. There are some excellent independent initiatives: the Lighting for Good Charter and the Society of Light and Lighting’s Circular Economy Assessment Method (CEAM) in their forthcoming Circular Economy Technical Memorandum to name but two. But for lighting equipment and scheme designs, there is no single or agreed metric that one can direct a client, specifier, engineer or manufacturer towards. There is no universal measure that can be taken or a score of good or bad practice.

So how does this help a lighting designer illustrate to their client that a serviceable luminaire design is more environmentally responsible than one that isn’t? How does this help a luminaire manufacturer know if they should use the locally made plastic component or the recycled aluminium one flown in from overseas? How does a Facilities Manager know how to handle a luminaire at end of life? How do they avoid replacing when they might upgrade instead? How does the end client demonstrate to shareholders or customers that they are building as responsibly as they can?

The GreenLight Alliance see its primary role being to aid and, if possible, accelerate the creation of a broad, deep, rigorous and fair measure that can be universally applied. We envisage unilateral, comradely exchanges between the different ongoing initiatives, even to nudge them where needed. To learn, collaborate and share. To raise awareness, to fact check and question. To stress test existing initiatives, to scrutinise Circular Economy application in the real world. To applaud and promote vanguard examples and to be watchful of cynical green-washing.

The goal is to avoid a drawn out, staggered and differing array of metrics. Instead to ensure the best chance of optimising the journey towards a metric that is universally recognised, trusted and sought-after. The clock is ticking. The issue is bigger than any one company or any one country. Anything that can be done to accelerate the resolution of a common checklist and move to global adoption of the Circular Economy must be a good thing. 

What Can You Do?

Get involved. At a basic level, as a supporter. Click and follow our social media and email. Better still, engage as a GreenLight Ally. Indicate your interest and join our forum. Regular meetings include updates from specialists and industry bodies. Hear early on the latest news from movers in this area. Most importantly: share your own experiences, your contacts, concerns and help us to shape the story. Help us to get to the right destination as early as possible and make the Circular Economy work for the lighting industry. It is an industry that collaborates better than many. We have an opportunity to do some real good. Lead by example. Raise the bar. But there is work to be done.

Our Mission Statement

The GreenLight Alliance will work together to help everyone in the lighting sector understand their role in adopting and promoting the circular economy. 

We will work towards industry standards that are universally recognised, trusted and sought-after. We will also provide a hub for discussion and education in circular lighting design & the circular economy.

www.greenlight-alliance.com

The moment is now. Our industry is alive to the urgency.

Dave Hollingsbee, Stoane Lighting:

“It’s leaning on an open door from a client point of view. We have recently had numerous requests for visibly worthy equipment. Not lm/w or Power Factor figures – customers that want to skip paint or have mismatched colours in order to convey to their clients that they put planet first. It’s vital that we seize upon this opportunity to drive genuinely better design and product and ensure it’s not just a brief era of lazy greenwash.

“‘Visually honest, avoiding susceptibility to fashions and built to last. Designed for the Circular Economy’. This sort of mission statement should not be exceptional. It should be an assumption. No, of course we don’t suggest there is no room for fun and flair but never must we throw out equipment simply because its look went out of fashion.”  

Greta Smetoniute, Michael Grubb Studio:

“My grandmother was a geography teacher and a farmer. Since I was little she taught me about our intertwinement with nature and our dependency on its resources. She taught me to respect and to appreciate the world. During my career I’ve had the opportunity to learn about the ins and outs of the building industry, which currently go in the opposite direction to the system of nature. I feel grateful to have had the chance to work alongside some clients in developing not only lighting products made from recycled materials, but also to establish a closed loop supply chain. I hope that, with the help of the GLA, we can share the experience learned so far and infect the world with circular economy buzz.”

Mark Ridler, BDP:

“Having delivered a project that has the potential to be maintained sustainably, and at end of life, dismantled and reused, then someone at the end of the project needs to dismantle it and reuse it. There is no point having done all the spade work for it to be eventually binned. And this is a non-trivial problem. There needs to be institutional will, not only in capital projects but in operation too.” (From SLL Light Lines Jan/Feb 2021)

Hilde Sofie Olaisen, Zenisk:

“The key approach to a more sustainable society is to reduce consumption. I believe we need to aim for creating “classics”, that look good and are so pleasant and functional to use, that no one wants to exchange them or throw them away. Understanding the lifecycle and environmental impact of products is high complicated. The way impacts of, for example, raw material extraction is not communicated or talked about at all, is a warning sign. If one fixture can be kept in use for 10 years, instead of five, we can be sure to have halved its production impacts. That is a good and simple place to start!”

Carla Wilkins, Lichtvision Design:

“Lighting designers are well placed between clients and the lighting industry, communicating with both to find sustainable solutions.” (From arc 119

Bob Bohannon, Lux Rapide & President of Society of Light and Lighting: 

“The Linear Economy model has two problems: one, it assumes we have infinite resources to extract; two, it assumes we can throw stuff away and that the earth has infinite regenerative power.

“We do this because this is what we have done for the last 200 years and because resources really did seem infinite. Importantly we do it because we don’t account for any environmental damage, without addressing that side of the balance sheet, it appeared to be the cheapest way to make and use products. To quote Mark Carney, ‘Why do financial markets rate Amazon as one of the world’s most valuable companies, but the value of the vast region of the Amazon appears on no ledger until it’s stripped of its foliage and converted into farmland?’

“We have to change this, thus in answering calls to ‘build back better’ I propose that lighting’s new mission will be Minimum Energy, Minimum Resource, and Maximum Comfort.”

Gé Hulsmans, eldoLED: 

 “I fully support this initiative. Great to see that the lighting community gathers around lightening the impact on planet Earth, as resources are just not endless.”

Kevan Shaw, EFLA | KSLD: 

“Beware: If we are not watchful or engaged enough, a poor standard, a de facto proprietary accreditation will become established. An opportunity missed and potential millstone for all of us. As the knowledge and experience of us all in understanding the full environmental impacts of products we make, specify and use is growing and our knowledge changing, any standard must be flexible and regularly updated to reflect the changes in knowledge and the variation in market demand allied to other regulatory changes on this topic.”

James Morris-Jones, Lucent: 

“We’re really excited to see a coming together of likeminded professionals across the industry and with the work we have done over the last three years with ‘Lighting for Good’, have proven that with considerate design and careful selection of materials, it’s possible to make fixtures with a high efficiency and low percentage of plastic, which can easily be recycled and replaced during the lifetime of the luminaire or project. 

“What we really need is for designers, contractors and end-users to challenge us on this and ensure this type of product isn’t niche or custom but becomes a standard.

We need to stop talking circular and start acting circular! As we have demonstrated, it is possible to deliver authentic, transparent and accessible circular lighting solutions today.”  

Tim Bowes, Whitecroft Lighting:

“We need to stop talking circular and start acting circular! As we have demonstrated, it is possible to deliver authentic, transparent and accessible circular lighting solutions today. To do this we believe in three key step changes: 1. Work with the supply chain to design and manufacture products to circular principles with third party accreditation; 2. Support the user to optimise the health and wellbeing benefits of light and ensure it is delivered throughout its life; 3. Through smart design and tools such as material passports the ‘circular hierarchy of re-use’ becomes the clear and obvious choice. 

“To minimise the risk of greenwashing clients this has to delivered through collaboration, support and openness throughout the entire value chain.”

Matt Waugh, Michael Grubb Studio: 

“When working with project managers, we do ask what their intentions are for lighting equipment at the end of a project. We talk to clients about reusing, rather than disposing. This can help businesses form closer bonds with project teams and clients.” 

Leela Shanker, Flint Collective NYC & Carbon Leadership Forum New York:

“There is more to climate conscious lighting practice than reducing operational energy. To accurately measure the impact of lighting systems across their full life cycle, ‘embodied carbon’ needs to be included as a critical metric. We must work together to: identify gaps in data and policy; gather reliable information to facilitate informed creative and business decision-making; and adopt an internationally-recognised best practice approach to measuring and valuing our impact on our shared environment: built and natural.

“Momentum behind carbon conscious practice is coming from many sectors of construction. As a collegial, innovative, adaptable, global community, lighting has the potential to set a leading example in becoming a climate competitive industry.”

April Mitchell, Xicato:

“At Xicato, we pride ourselves in creating quality products that offer complete end-to-end solutions that embrace today’s circular economy, however, there is much more work to be done. The GreenLight Alliance is a fantastic way to bring us all together with a single focus to provide a sustainable environment with industry standards for everyone at each step along the way, no matter the role of the organisation/individual. We are in complete support of the GreenLight Alliance mission.”