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Where is the circular economy heading in the lighting industry?

Sustainability By Andrew Bissell, Director, Lighting Design – 11 August 2021

stairwell of a circular staircase with roof light


Andrew Bissell in the office with black wooden interior background

Andrew Bissell

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Whilst the lighting industry has always been very good at recycling, using recycled components and green energy this is not what the circular economy is about. Back in 2017, when we first wrote about the state of circular economy in the lighting industry, there was very little happening. Now however, we are fast approaching the release of TM66, a technical memorandum that will see the adoption of the circular economy throughout the industry.

Back when we initially wrote about the topic, we said that a successful circular economy in the lighting industry would be one where luminaires (light fittings) use as close to 100% recycled material as possible, with green energy sourced close to the point of use. We also suggested the use of products that are modular, simple and easily accessible, to allow for repairs that are environmentally positive or neutral. The idea being that the luminaire should remain a luminaire for as long as possible, with all components upcycled, repurposed or recycled.

Through the article we also introduced the concept of a circular economy label on lighting products. Essentially this would be akin to the energy label on electrical appliances which inform the consumer of the efficiency of the product. It was proposed that the circular economy label could identify how much of the product is from recycled material; how much of the product could be recycled, how many of the parts can be replaced and how long replacement parts will be available for.

Fast forward to 2021 and we are approaching the release of the Society of Light and Lighting TM66(Technical memorandum) Adopting the Circular Economy in the Lighting Industry. This document carries a wealth of information for everyone involved in the lighting industry including lighting designers, lighting manufacturers, clients, facilities managers and wholesalers. Each has their part to play and each need specific information on how to make, select, maintain and assess lighting products. TM66 also provides information on the current legislation and a number of case studies. The jewels in the crown however are the two Circular Economy Assessment Methods, CEAM-Make and CEAM-Design.

The two assessment methods turn the complex subject of lighting component manufacturing and design, into easy-to-understand independent ratings. This will enable manufacturers and specifiers such as lighting designers, an easy method of comparing products from a circular economy perspective. For clients, this now means that a fitting’s true cost (capital, maintenance and environmental) will be known prior to a decision to procure a product. This rating method or labelling system is groundbreaking and a real game changer which will bring about huge environmental benefits.

In addition to TM66, since 2017 we have seen a number of examples of manufacturers revisiting older installations and replacing the T5 fluorescent lamps and reflectors with new LEDs and optics. This is a great example of the circular economy in that the majority of the components have remained a light fitting with only the essential items being replaced. Since the first case study there are now a number of companies offering this as a service to clients and the lighting industry. Along with TM66 this is also a fantastic change which will bring about real environmental benefits. Once published we will follow up with more details on the CEAM-Make and CEAM-Design rating tools.