When you are either specifying or engineering a light fixture, I implore you to think about the broader issues of sustainability and the lighting industry’s impact on our tiny planet. There are many sustainability certification programs out there and frankly, I think all of them are good – everything helps. However, I challenge you to think of one simple concept: Would I want to live next to any part of the supply chain for this product?
I might also suggest phrasing the question with a bit more of a holistic point of view: Would I want to live next to next to any part of the supply chain for this product, at any point during its existence?
I’ve nicknamed this philosophy “beautiful factories“.
As a point of comparison, consider the choice of using aluminum vs. bamboo. One could argue that aluminum is more sustainable, because once it is produced, it can be recycled indefinitely with no loss of functionality. Bamboo, however, is degraded each time it is processed. Yet I retort: Do you want to live next to any part of the aluminum supply chain? Do you want to live next to an open-pit bauxite mine? The smokestacks of a smelting mill? Want to live downstream of an anodizing plant? And at the end of the product’s use-period, do you want to live next to a scrap-yard? No???? Neither do I. With bamboo (or any wood product, for that matter), I might: A bamboo forest? Nice! A sawmill? That might be ok…no tailing ponds, noxious gasses, etc. A wood shop? No problem. And at the end of the use-cycles, bamboo can be thrown back in the forest to compost (if it is not ruined with a bunch of other nasty chemicals, like glues, paints, coatings, etc.).
When I use this point of comparison, of which factories a person would accept living next to, the notion of “sustainability” becomes really personal and it makes it easy for designers to understand the impact of their choices.
There is tremendous potential for using bio-friendly, natural materials with clean supply chains to create innovative lighting products. Designers are using natural material sources for 3D printing; researchers are developing electronics that can dissolve into vitamins; “e-textiles” offer promise to use natural fiber sources for light panels; and panel parts can be made from low-grade natural fibers.
The handling of these products at the end of their usage-cycles is a huge concern. We must adopt the principles of circular economy thinking. The lighting industry simply must not follow the path that consumer electronics has taken, leaving a planet filled with toxic e-waste. We need a better plan than that.