Challenges to being circular

I’ve been reviewing some materials for the Lighting Industry Association (The LIA), in fact for a fine friend over there, Bob Bohannon. Many of you may have heard of Bob for his lighting award or for his work on the circular economy with both the LIA and CIBSE.

That led me to an example, with an educated and environmentally conscious client. I think they would be a pretty good example of people with the determination to do better but with a commercial mindset.

The scenario was one of replacing an emergency luminaire. To be clear, a failed emergency battery. The client had a complete risk assessment and a complete emergency redesign done by me. I had used respected products, built to last and ones I knew were possible to repair.

The conversation started by asking me what luminaire would replace the current broken one. I asked how broken the luminaire was, as our strategy was only to add new, where required and keep using existing LED products where they were deemed fit for purpose. This luminaire clearly fell into the latter category.

I looked up the spare battery and the likely replacement if a new fitting was required. I recommended a new battery; the electrician’s price was around £5 more than a new fitting of the same type.

I discussed this with the client. New for old seemed like a favourable outcome to them and even at just £5 saving on parts alone, they wavered from their environmental direction. After all 2023 had been a tough year what with inflation and the rest. Installation-wise the electrician was non-committal but his installed price was less for a new fitting. Retrofitting a new battery is more fiddly and so takes longer
It was a fair comment by him and one he was right to make his client aware of. But in that moment circularity died. There was no upgrade to a new and more circular product, even one with a good quality EPD behind it. Replacing the product with the old type was cheaper. The replacement battery option, whilst probably the most circular option, lost out to good old commercial money-saving. The old fitting was replaced, as a complete unit and a small saving was made.

Where is that old luminaire? I hope in a facility for proper repair, recycling and reuse. But given that one of the largest compliance schemes run by Recolight, estimates that just over 7 in 100 products are recycled properly, I sadly assume that I’m wrong.

Circularity, repair not replace, must be the way forward. We do not have enough resources long-term to do otherwise. But what will change us away from our linear relationship with products where cash remains pre-eminent?
I’m not sure I know the answer.

How do we get our market to change on that scale?


By maclighter

A Chartered Engineer in Lighting, though trained in mechanical, with 30 years lighting design, technical, manufacture and marketing experience. A trusted mentor, designer, emergency and DIALux trainer, speaker and past president of the Society of Light and Lighting. Get in touch if I can help you out.