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Why now is the time for lighting to switch on the circular economy

Amanda Speight

Amanda Speight

Business Development Manager at CFE Lighting
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Image Credit: Chones/Shutterstock

Amanda Speight, Business Development Manager at CFE Lighting, explains why sustainable initiatives aimed at promoting the circular economy should be a priority for the industry in 2022.

If the last few years are anything to go by, decarbonisation is driving significant shifts in governmental policies, industrial rules, regulations and consumer behaviour.

In November, world leaders gathered in Glasgow to attend the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference, better known as COP26, to reaffirm commitments to climate targets set in the landmark Paris Agreement of 2015.

This is framed around a goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C, with many nations, regions and individual businesses committing to bold net zero targets that straddle across the next three decades. Indeed, a key announcement at COP26 was the UK Government mandating businesses in high-emitting industries to publish their net zero strategies.

Lighting has a big role to play. If these climate commitments are to be met, lighting stocks must be made sustainable, become smarter and be embedded into the circular economy. Put simply, a circular economy is a model of production and consumption which involves sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.

LEDs continue to lead the way

In lighting terms, that means creating products and systems which last as long as possible, can be restored and minimise waste.

We’re already seeing progress in this regard. In his opening remarks in Lighting Europe’s 2021 Annual Report, Lionel Brunet, the association’s President, declared, “The European lighting industry already has the technology and products today to achieve close to 10% saving in overall European electricity consumption by 2030 – this means that all conventional lighting technologies must now switch to LED.”

Indeed, the rapid rise of LED lighting must continue to gather momentum. Commercial, industrial, and public sectors are all turning to LED technology to improve their carbon footprints and cut energy costs. Compared to more traditional alternatives such as fluorescent (CFL) and high-density discharge (HID) lamps, they are far more sustainable solutions and better suited to circular economy models. LEDs last far longer, contain no mercury or other harmful gases, and do not emit harmful UV rays.

This is leading to spiking demand for LED lighting solutions. According to research by Mordor Intelligence, the LED lighting market was valued at $75.81 billion in 2020, and is expected to reach $160.03 billion by 2026 – that represents an average annual growth rate of more than 14%.

Furthermore, the study suggests that savings of $18 billion in electricity costs can be made by transitioning to energy efficient LEDs, with more than 160 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide being removed from the atmosphere every year.

Lighting must focus on repair and restore

However, while they are a vital part of our armoury, we should not treat LED lighting as the silver bullet that will catapult our industry into the circular economy realm. 

A key component of the circular economy is the ability to reuse and repair products, delaying or eliminating as much as possible the end-of-life concept. For the lighting industry, this not only means creating products which are built to last (as LEDs are), but with serviceable parts that can be repaired and replaced. This is what the BS8887 standard refers to. 

BS8887 outlines the various steps required to remanufacture a product. Widespread adoption of this standard among lighting manufacturers will be crucial to the sector’s sustainability performance in years to come. Moreover, with rising energy costs already starting to hit consumers and businesses, lighting systems which stand the test of time will be a vital source of savings.  

Smarter lighting will help meet net zero targets

Adopting smart lighting solutions will also play into the circular economy model. These systems incorporate intelligence gathered through sensors so that lighting can respond to the needs of the environment it is in, avoiding wastage caused by failure to turn lights off once a room has become unoccupied.

We are already seeing a shift away from standalone LED lighting measures and a move towards more integrated system solutions made up of LED and networked lighting controls.

It should also be noted that the data gathered by smart lighting sensors can lead to other benefits with the potential to contribute to the circular economy. For example, building managers can acquire information on how and when rooms are occupied and make more informed strategic decisions about not only lighting, but also heating, air conditioning, cleaning frequencies and ordering of supplies – all of which carry circular economy implications.   

Organisations which invest in efficient and smart lighting systems, as well as other sustainable policies, stand to benefit from growing consumer awareness about net zero and environmental responsibility.

There is plenty of research to support this, while the Mordor Intelligence report cites heightening consumer awareness as a key factor behind the massive growth of the LED lighting market.

Indeed, employees are increasingly looking for their employers to align with their values on sustainability, a factor which may even impact their decision whether to join or leave a company.

The lighting industry can and should continue to build awareness. By showcasing the latest innovations and proving the case for LEDs and smart lighting solutions, we can encourage both domestic and commercial stakeholders to shift to more sustainable lighting practices.

In doing so, a key step towards net zero can be taken.

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