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FX Magazine: Lighting Focus - Sustainability (Issue 258)


To read the article in the magazine, click on the image here.








Scaling The Mountain

Someone compared the embracing of a sustainable way of doing things to climbing a mountain. At first the air smells sweeter and the views get better – but eventually you find it more difficult to breathe without some kind of assistance. I think that’s a decent metaphor for a process that depends on an entirely new way of seeing the world and how we go about our business. Join me for a stroll in the foothills.

It helps to start out with the broadest possible look at why Sustainability is important to us. Put simply, we as a species have been ripping whatever we feel like out of our planet with little regard for what might happen next. Now we’re running out of all kinds of stuff and we’re starting to experience the consequences of three hundred years of nature-pillage. Now, that statement is considered a political statement in some quarters – just the commie eco-left having a pop at the establishment right -  which just adds to the general fug of confusion. And even when the top guy in the Church of Rome gets involved (LAUDATO SI’ Encyclical Letter of the Holy Father Francis on care of our common home), there’s still no certainty as to which way the route to Sustainability Summit is going to work.

I’m going to give you three broad headlines in the Sustainability argument, roughly – what we need to do today; what we need to do tomorrow; what we need to do by the weekend – or something like that anyway.

Climate Change:
I don’t usually write about Climate Change as a component of Sustainable behaviour, but I do write about the continual burning of non-renewable energy reserves . . . as if there were no tomorrow. But let’s look at Climate Change because that’s what’s getting the greatest number of people exercised.

97% of the world’s scientists who know about this stuff agree that Climate Change is  caused by us – you and me, our friends and families – as well as all those nice people halfway around the world who make all that cheap product for us. And if we don’t do something about it NOW, then we face cataclysmic weather changes that will destroy our ability to feed the global population and which will dramatically change the contours of countries will any kind of coastline. London is at risk as well as the Maldives.

The lighting industry has done fantastically well in shifting to a low energy environment. The replacement of filament lamps by CFL and more recently by LED is a great story and one of which we should all be immensely proud.

Objective 1: To move exclusively to energy-efficient sources and to use lighting control to manage the use of those sources.

So we can give ourselves a pat on the back – but then we must take a closer look at what’s coming up over the horizon, cos we ain’t anywhere near finished yet.

The Circular Economy:
Maybe it just helps to be an internationally known sportsperson, but doors have opened for Dame Ellen MacArthur recently. She has been provided with the platform to speak to international business leaders about the importance of not throwing things away, and that I why The Circular Economy is now on the agenda of many global companies.

Circular Economy’ is a new title for something that we’ve known about for a long time – the simple idea that we don’t throw things away. It might be contra-intuitive for a capitalist system (whoops!) that relies on over-consumption and planned obsolescence to want to hold onto things, but most of us recognise in our own lives how we’re surrounded by objects that have outlived their original intention but still manage to hold onto a degree of usefulness; furniture that comes down the generations to us; favourite tools and appliances that might be held together with sting but we wouldn’t dream of being rid of them . . . my bicycle, which is now over 30 years old and still as good as new, despite the mileage that its expected to cover even now.

There are two chief thrusts in the Sustainability argument in favour of the Circular Economy: firstly, the longer a manufactured good stays in service, the more the original energy and material resources taken to make that good is amortised across its years of life. This is a good thing. And secondly, while a good is in use we are not calling on yet more mineral resource to be dug out of the planet to replace it. Again, this is a good thing.

There is only one thing about the current Circular Economy that gives me cause for concern and that is the Monetarisation of Waste. The principle of The Circular Economy requires that the original makes retain a degree of control over the finished good in order that the materials within that god can be returned to the manufacturing loop in an efficient way. This sounds like a good thing – and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t be a good thing, except for one potential problem. At the moment, recycled materials – especially in the electronics sector, are often processed by the poorest people on the planet. There is a horrendous quote from Dr Thuppil Venkatesh, director of the National Centre for Lead Poisoning in India: "Half of children in a city like Bangalore already have blood lead levels at about 10 micrograms per decilitre, which has resulted in a reduction in their intelligence quotient. We are seeing more and more cases now because more and more electronic waste is being handled by our people."

My question to global business leaders is to ask what level of intervention they propose to change this appalling situation, or are they happy to stay with the status quo.

Objective 2: lighting equipment should be designed to be taken apart so that long-life components (heat sinks and the like) can be re-used. Electronic circuitry should be designed to alleviate the current toxicity of the recycling process.

A Leasehold Future:
The common description of our industrial culture is that It Takes – It Makes – It Wastes. We are all used to, and happy to celebrate, when good sales figures drive company profitability. After all, it’s all we’ve ever known and we’ve never had to see the world any differently. But now we do.

Our first objective was to reduce the energy footprint of what we make and sell.

The second objective is to find ways to reduce the need for more raw material by employing ‘Cradle-to-Cradle’ design philosophies and supporting the Circular Economy.

Our third objective needs to embrace a new paradigm; that what we take from the earth needs to remains our responsibility throughout the good’s life and beyond. In this way, raw material in the form of a component can become a leasable commodity, to be used again and again. It will require coordination between LED chip manufacturers, LED module manufacturers and luminaire manufacturers – but, then again, we’ve bee here before. The 60W GLS lamp didn’t change its size in almost a century, so why should LED metrics be any different?

We are already seeing the first initiatives in this direction in the form of Philips’ Pay-Per-Lux model. Inevitably, this is a strategy currently available only to those mega-companies with plenty of money to hand; the radical shift that needs to accompany this way of working (and remember that this isn’t just about lighting) is to create a whole new way of making money work positively for the environment, rather than for the high priests of the money system.

Objective 3: At some point soon a penny needs to drop amongst international governments that the private capital system is no longer fit for purpose. Access to finance (in its broadest meaning of the word) needs to be made available in a wholly new way, to enable companies to develop, manufacture and distribute products that have been created within a sustainable framework. It requires understanding that shareholder short-termism cannot support a post-industrial model that requires a far longer strategic world view of the husbanding of natural resources.

Either that or we need to find a neighbouring planet or parallel dimension to rape and pillage in the same way that we’ve done to our own backyard.

Things to look for when seeking to specify ‘sustainable’ product:

A lot of the effort required in achieving a sustainable specification comes from gleaning information from manufacturers on their supply and fabrication strategies.
The ‘Sustainability Community’ has come to recognise that an open approach to where things come from –and where they eventually go – is paramount in gaining the trust of specifiers.

The Product:

  • Is the performance of the luminaire as good as it can be given its style and nature, while meeting your design criteria. (and I assume that Part L figures for lamp circuit lumens/Watt to be a given performance minimum)?
  • Can the luminaire be stripped down and individual components replaced / upgraded?
  • Are the materials used in the luminaire manufacture recyclable (assume plastics to be a Bad Thing unless someone confirms to you differently)?
  • Have the materials used in the product been ‘responsibly sourced’ and is there corresponding supply chain data to support the manufacturer’s assertion.
  • Does the luminaire come with an Environmental Product Declaration; data based on Life Cycle Analysis of the luminaire components, including the source of materials used and the environmental impact caused by fabrication?

The Company:

  • Does the company promote and maintain a positive product design philosophy that embraces regenerative design principles?
  • Does the company hold accreditation from any of the organisations that promote regenerative design principles (C2C, for example)?
  • Does the company publish regularly the environmental impacts of its business via a standard reporting process (GRI, for example)?
  • Does the company offer a ‘take-back’ service for products that have reached the end of their useful life?
  • Does the company offer a leasing arrangement that ensures return of product at the end of the leasing period – for those products to be renovated and returned to the product steam?


To read this issue of FX magazine, click on the cover image below.



RIBA CPD in 2015

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