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The circular economy

Sustainability, energy saving, carbon reduction and wellness have all been big topics for lighting manufacturers; for at least the last decade. However, with climate change and emergency at the fore, the movement gaining the most traction (and picking up speed!) is the circular economy.

What is the circular economy?

There have been news headlines and LinkedIn posts galore, but what does circular economy even mean?

Planners, architects, and investors building towns and infrastructure want to offer users healthy environments while achieving carbon neutrality. On the other hand, policymakers and regulators urge industries to change their products and operations to be greener and climate neutral.

The move to a resource-efficient, clean and circular economy is now acknowledged as vital to addressing our global ecological issues.

It is a given that we produce lights that are energy efficient. The manufacturing process however impacts our environment. 80% of products' environmental impacts are determined at the design phase, and packaging alone is responsible for 174kg of waste per inhabitant (in Europe in 2018).

Just as alarming, new research from the United Nations University (UNU) predicts global e-waste, which is defined as discarded products with a battery or plug, will reach 74 million metric tonnes (Mt) by 2030, up from 53Mt in 2019. Add to that, the statistic that raw material use is expected to double by 2060, if there is no change; you can imagine the severe environmental consequences.

Today we work to a linear system of Design, Build, Use and Dispose. In a circular model, we would work to design out waste and pollution. Materials will be kept in use, and end-of-life products recycled back into the economy.

How do we become more circular?

Moving beyond energy efficiency, adopting circular economy principles in how we manufacture products will soon be a must, and not just a nice to do. The pace has increased.

In 2018 Lighting Europe said, "Our most recent engagement is in the area of EU ecodesign, a set of rules that originally focused on increasing energy efficiency, but that has now become the main tool to deliver the EU's circular economy strategy. Draft texts for the next set of ecodesign rules for light sources introduce mandatory removability and reparability requirements to be introduced as soon as 2021."

We look forward to seeing them.

So far this year, we have seen regulatory and compliance bodies starting to lead.

For example, Recolight unveiled an ambitious series of sustainability webinars which they will deliver throughout the year.

In February, the Global Alliance on Circular Economy and Resource Efficiency (GACERE) was formed by the European Commission on behalf of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), in coordination with the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO).

Its aim: to provide a global impetus to initiatives related to the circular economy transition, resource efficiency, sustainable consumption and production patterns, and inclusive and sustainable industrialization.

We are also expecting the SLL’s Circular Economy Checklist and Assessment Method to land any day soon.

Until we have the guidelines, what can we as a lighting community do?

Some simple steps, which a lot of us are already engaging:

- Think differently at the design stage

- Daylight – it's free and produces zero waste

- Use controls – put the right light in the right place

- Design for the space

- Retrofit or upgrade if the equipment is still serviceable

What are eos doing?

For us, it starts at the design stage. We always manufacture luminaires that are maintainable or recyclable and offer replacement LED gear trays within both interior and exterior projects.

Packaging also plays a big role. We limit plastic where possible opting for recyclable materials such as cardboard.

For many of our customers, we’ve become known as the ‘retrofit team’. We take projects that others won't, updating the tech to improve light quality and energy performance, as evidenced in projects such as Westfield light stacks (pictured below) and Mercury Mall recessed concourse lighting and loading bay and car park ramp lighting, where we designed custom retrofit gear trays.

We understand there is still a long way to go. But we are proud of the steps we have taken, as a relatively small manufacturer, to step away from the ‘norm’; the linear model.

The road to true circularity is long. Ultimately it comes down to us, the manufacturers, to get this right. However, it will take a team effort (clients, contractors, lighting designers, suppliers, and others in the lighting community) to ensure that the future of the circular economy evolves.


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