the next evolution of lighting: sustainable lighting

green lightbulb

Introduction – The Next Evolution

Part I – Connected Lighting

Part II – Embedded Lighting

Part III – Sustainable Lighting

Circular Economy — What goes around comes around.

The “circular economy” is a movement to stop the industrialized world’s bad habit of “take-make-waste” and instead to create endless circular flows of materials.  The Circular Economy is effectively a very sophisticated strategy for “recycling”, but instead of the wimpy recycling approaches most consumers know, circular economy strategists are trying for real, extensive, and highly profitable flows of products, parts, and materials in endless loops. To achieve this vision, it takes coordinated effort to rethink product design, business models, and market processes.  So how will the lighting industry adapt to such a future?

EllenMacArthur   new_lightbox_f575289734fa56248d5c0313131e36412d7349c3

Interchangeable parts for durable LED fixtures.

Lighting fixtures have long been durable goods; lighting sources, on the other hand, have inherently been constructed as expendable, disposable items.  The current and extremely lazy trend in the lighting industry for producing “disposable fixtures” simply cannot be sustained.  Customers cannot bear the long term maintenance headaches of such short-term, wretched product management, nor can the environment.  Standards programs like the Zhaga Consortium are critical to enabling the repair and reuse of durable fixtures long into the future.  If you can repair a device, you keep it from having to be disposed of (or broken down into its constituent parts); a basic tenet to the Circular Economy.

The eternal flame

LEDs have plummeted in cost and it looks like the trend will only continue for the next several years.  The upside to this is that it is readily possible to design LED engines that can run for literally hundreds of thousands of hours with zero light depreciation, by simply building in more LEDs than needed initially and having an intelligent driver either increase the current slowly or switch sets of LEDs.  LEDs have been so cost prohibitive that no-one has explored this route yet, but I firmly believe you will see a proliferation of 100k hour lifetimes at L100.  Yes, you read that right – 100,000+ hours with a perfect lumen maintenance.

Lighting as a service

One of the tenets of circular economy thinking is that manufacturers will switch to providing services, not just “shipping boxes”.  In the lighting industry, this leads to financial innovations such as “pay per lux” usage-based billing, leasing programs, and equipment end-of-life take-back programs.  End customers want light, not expense capital equipment that is a pain to use and maintain.  Monitoring actual usage, planned upgrades, maintenance, etc. becomes significantly cheaper with smartly designed connected lighting.

Used lighting dealers

Durable fixtures with modular designs and light engines that maintain impressive performance for extremely long time periods, maintained by the original manufacturer:  Sounds perfect for developing a used market, right?  If the industry takes simple steps now in terms of industry standards, very interesting alternative revenue streams may start to develop in 5-10 years, such as markets for 2nd-hand fixtures, light engines, etc.  There are many examples of used markets in other industries that generate tremendous value.  Let’s hope the lighting industry can avoid the hucksters, OK?


Bio-friendly materials and disposable fixtures

On the other side of the coin from durable fixtures, there are many lighting applications where even basic LED technology outlives the application life (such as consumer lighting, fashion retail, restaurants, etc.).  So why are we designing all lighting products to the same standards, using the same expensive materials?  We will see a growing trend for designing “disposable” fixtures that minimize their material use and even use bio-based materials that simply compost into dirt at end of life.  Imagine a classic A-lamp:  The LED and driver are miniaturized into an assembly the size of a vitamin pill and the rest of the bulb could be readily built out of biodegradable materials.  And it is conceivable that even the light engine might simply biodegrade, too, with electronic circuits that simply dissolve and maybe even organic-based LED compounds.  How’s that for reducing the end-of-life liability?

What future are we designing?

The computer and consumer electronics industries have left an appalling blight of electronics waste on our planet.  So far, LED lighting has appropriated many of the same fundamental production methods and product architectures as consumer electronics.  Yet there is no fundamental reason why LED lighting needs circuit boards that can’t be recycled, fixtures that can’t be disassembled, or entire product families intended as disposable “one time use only” junk.  There are numerous innovative and fundamentally sustainable technologies out there that the lighting industry can adopt. But will the lighting industry move fast enough?


Next Up: Conclusion — Evolution can be harsh