Office building lit at night

Towards a circular economy in lighting

Image credit: Signify

The lighting sector’s demand for raw materials and energy means that adopting a radical approach to design, manufacture and use can have significant consequences for sustainability.

As a global society, we are incredibly and unsustainably wasteful. According to a recent WWF report, we use 1.8 times the volume of resources that our planet can sustain. Another study from the World Economic Forum estimates that one truckload of plastic is dumped into our oceans every minute. If we continue at the current rate, this is expected to increase to two per minute by 2030, and four per minute by 2050.

As the world continues to overuse its limited resources, increasingly scarce materials will become more expensive and challenging to source. We owe it to our customers and the world to do better. The only way to do this is to create a model of manufacturing products with minimal waste that can be upgraded, serviced, reused, refurbished, or recycled and support saving energy.

At Signify, sustainability is core to everything we do in the lighting sector. Operating sustainably is not at odds with our growth but is our guiding direction, and gives us a competitive advantage. We have never seen it as a reason to hit the brakes; it has always been a way to move ahead. In 2020, we became a carbon-neutral company, and as we enter this crucial decade of action to address the climate emergency, we are not stopping. With the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals as our strategic compass, we have identified the concept of the circular economy as a strategic growth pillar.

We are committed to doubling our revenues from circular products, systems and services to 34 per cent by the end of 2025, up from 25 per cent in 2021 and our 2019 baseline of 16 per cent. Waste reduction forms an essential aspect of circularity. Today over 90 per cent of our manufacturing waste is recycled, and we are committed to sending zero waste to landfill for all our manufacturing sites.

Based on a set of sustainable design rules, we have created four categories of circular lighting solutions: serviceable luminaires, circular components, intelligent systems and circular systems.

In the serviceable luminaires category, serviceability refers to the ability to prolong the technical and economic life of a product after it has been service. 3D-printed luminaires, for example, are designed to be upgraded to meet customers' emerging needs. Whether these are related to performance, look and feel, or system upgrade, they are made possible by a modular concept facilitates that allows modules to be exchanged of added rather than replacing the whole luminaire. Using recyclable polycarbonate means luminaires can be fully reused at the end of their lifetime. What's more, these circular designs use no paint, fewer parts, and fewer screws.

A 3D-printed luminaire has a carbon footprint between 50 and 75 per cent lower than its conventional equivalent for its materials, production and logistics. It’s an approach that allows us to manufacture on-demand and close to customers, reducing the carbon footprint of our freight operations.

Circular components can easily be replaced and are made of recyclable parts, such as drivers, controls, and LED boards, whose specifications reach the most rigorous standards for durability and failure rates. By only having to replace a single component when it breaks or reaches the end of its lifetime, we can extend the lifespan of a luminaire beyond that of its parts

The third category – intelligent systems that can constantly monitor light fittings – helps us identify when and where to perform maintenance, cutting down on waste, costs, downtime, and workforce. These systems can optimise light levels; for example, to create the highest levels of energy savings or increase eye comfort.

Circular services, the last category, can be seen in our light-as-a-service (LaaS) model, which combines lighting design, installation, and maintenance in a single contract. We design and install, operate, and maintain the product to ensure there is no need to discard a luminaire. Connected systems make maintenance easy, which reduces waste, costs, downtime, and manpower. This gives the customer the flexibility to return the equipment, reuse it or recycle it.

LaaS makes it possible to renovate lighting without an upfront investment by offering a financing mechanism. When an existing and conventional lighting system is renovated, the energy savings can be massive. Additionally, the lighting service can generate immediate positive cash flow. At the end of a contract, the equipment can be returned to us to recover value from end-of-contract products, via reuse or recycling. Having originally designed the product and monitored its actual use throughout its in-service life, we have all the data we need to choose the best scenario for each product.

We are living in one of the most exciting eras, and our transformative actions will dictate the future of many generations to come. In the most crucial decade for climate action, we need to leave behind the old idea of the linear economy, built on profligate waste and a dangerous disregard of its consequences. Instead, let's set in motion a clean circular economy that allows people, infrastructure, and the planet we depend on to thrive into the future.

Stephen Rouatt is CEO of Signify UK&I.

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