Sustainable Lighting and the Circular Economy Sustainable Lighting and the Circular Economy
Sustainability concerns cut across all aspects of the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. Nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to... Sustainable Lighting and the Circular Economy

Sustainability concerns cut across all aspects of the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry. Nearly 40% of global greenhouse gas emissions are attributable to buildings and construction, so as multi-disciplinary consultants, we have a role to play in mitigating the environmental impact.

Central to how the world develops a strategy for addressing environmental concerns is the idea of a circular economy. Interior and exterior architectural lighting are among the many chapters in the story of a circular economy. In this article, BURO HAPPOLD investigate how designers, specifiers, manufacturers and clients are increasingly making sustainable choices for lighting design, with senior lighting designer Alexia Gkika.

The circular economy

A circular economy is one that keeps materials and products in circulation and use for as long as practically possible, resulting in the reduction of waste, pollution and material devaluation. Material recovery, repurposing and reuse in this way contributes to an economic system that achieves reduced carbon emissions (both operational and embodied carbon) and increased value.

The AEC industry includes a focus on building retrofit and refurbishment over demolition and new build construction projects. The undeniable connection between electric lighting, energy consumption and resource use demands a complete re-think of construction design and overarching project strategies.

Assessing the full ‘cradle to cradle’ environmental impact is now fundamental for lighting products. Changes can be made in how lighting components are designed, manufactured, procured and operated – and how they are then dismantled, reused and remanufactured. Circular components are exchangeable, replaceable and made of recycled/ recyclable parts. Increased modularity of components improves the lifespan of a luminaire, reducing single-use manufacturing and enabling servicing of lighting installations in-situ.

Why are sustainable lighting decisions important?

Alexia Gkika, senior lighting designer at Buro Happold, and sustainability and wellbeing champion of the specialist lighting team, has a particular interest in the role and environmental impact of lighting in building services. She said, “As a designer and specifier, it is my responsibility to question how we can influence projects and improve their environmental footprint in terms of the circular economy and sustainability. Changing from the bottom up takes time; time which we don’t necessarily have to reverse climate tipping points. However, all our best efforts are still needed as we are early in the journey, and processes need an urgent structured plan of action.

“Having a thorough product knowledge and understanding of how manufacturers are dealing with sustainable aspects is a first priority for any lighting designer who wants to promote circular economy. It is in our power to add more granularity in our strategies and our specifications, and to make sure that the characteristics that we specify include sustainability and circular economy considerations.”

“It is in our power to add more granularity in our strategies and our specifications, and to make sure that the characteristics that we specify include sustainability and circular economy considerations.”
Alexia Gkika, Senior Lighting Designer

Fundamentally, this is about moving away from a ‘throwaway’ mentality and towards one that values repurposing and reusing assets, as part of a broader societal shift. Alexia said, “If we are to enable this shift, we have to activate all stakeholders; it’s not just the manufacturers, clients, designers or contractors individually, it’s about everyone working together with common goals, and maintaining that goal through to project delivery and implementation.”

Ensuring actions and decisions around sustainable lighting choices are commercially viable is both a priority and a challenge that Alexia has encountered in her conversations with client and design teams. “A key driver or trigger in lighting decisions is often to reduce energy consumption and costs (especially in the current climate), as well as ensuring clients get a good return on their investment.

“So, it is imperative that we reach the point when the most sustainable approach is not the most expensive to adopt. In addition, we need to work towards adopting the mentality that a renewed product is as good as new – moving on from the idea of thinking it has inferior value compared to something that is brand new. Only then we can truly go on to deliver something that respects and is governed by sustainable values.”

To help clients and collaborators make sustainable choices that are suitable for the context and use of their space, we also need to consider aspects such as light quality, visual comfort, aesthetics and inclusivity. Each of these pillars encompasses considerations that may come into conflict with the ‘most sustainable’ option, so designers and specifiers need to assist clients and industry collaborators in achieving a well-considered, cohesive and sustainable scheme that lasts.

Related to that is the wider industry: a lot of what lighting designers contribute towards achieving is part of broader environmental, social and governance (ESG) strategies or sustainability certification targets, such as BREEAM or LEED.

Alexia said, “We expect to see the introduction of regulations and policies to include eco-design targets on embodied/operational carbon, requirements for whole life cycle assessments and setting additional resource efficiency requirements for products in accordance with the principles of the circular economy.

“When something becomes a regulation, it gains a different weight. Often, clients feel comfortable by going with what a code says or what a standard says. It is our role to help our clients interpret that generic code guidance and make it relevant to their projects.”

Sustainable lighting design

Alexia and Buro Happold lighting experts worked with designer Steuart Padwick on the ‘Hope Sculpture Project’, which formed part of a larger collection of COP 26 legacy sculptures across Glasgow.

This 23m tall structure is now found on the Cuningar Loop, a park on the banks of the River Clyde. Sustainability transcends all aspects of this project. All parts of the sculpture are made from reclaimed and recycled sustainable materials, including the lighting and construction methods deployed. Alexia provided an appropriately environmentally friendly lighting design scheme, with a particular focus on the illumination decisions taken at night. The project achieved a 75% carbon reduction, demonstrating and setting an appropriate framework of how sustainable lighting design should be approached.

Alexia said, “This project was all about reusing materials, and making sure that we used processes and equipment that had the least environmental impact. It was an opportunity to put sustainability as our top priority in design decisions and use lighting equipment that is small scale, efficient and modular. Despite the limited scope, the Hope Sculpture Project became a real turning point on how to make a good start in adopting those principles on larger projects.”

Exterior lighting can be a significant contributor to light pollution and energy demand, so the initial discussion for every project should be: do we need to illuminate? And if so, how much light do we actually need, and how can we minimise its impact? The hosting environment of the Hope Sculpture was a park with a very limited amount of artificial lighting. Because of the naturally darker ambience at night, only a low intensity of light was necessary.

Miniature adjustable luminaires were used on chosen sections of the sculpture, with controlled optics resulting in effective illumination while minimising light spillage. Because these light sources provided low power and high efficacy, overall operational demands were reduced. This included using existing/re-purposed lighting equipment from a local Scottish manufacturer.

Embodied carbon and circular economy assessments were undertaken, using the newly introduced methodologies based on The Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers’ (CIBSE) TM65 and TM66 documents. Reflecting on the lighting choices made for the Hope sculpture, Alexia said, “This project was truly based on circular economy principles.”

Sustainable lighting at Wimbledon Park

The question of lighting at night was also central to decisions made at Wimbledon Park Project, for the All England Lawn Tennis Club (AELTC). Ongoing work on the estate that hosts the iconic tennis tournament includes sensitive lighting decisions across the exterior areas of the park. Ensuring ecological habitats are enhanced and kept undisturbed while restoring some of the original design values of this Capability Brown heritage landscape is at the heart of the client’s objectives.

Alexia said, “Even though the site is planned to accommodate large crowds during championship periods, on a year-to-year basis the use of the parkland will be shared between private training grounds and a publicly accessible park for the local community. Therefore, the operational needs and activity levels vary significantly; this called for a scalable and flexible exterior lighting scheme to achieve resource efficiency and support the project’s net zero plans.

“An early discussion with the client team took place on the desired extent of light and the importance of darkness to meet a fine balance among operational, ecological, heritage and sustainability considerations. The agreed approach was to provide illumination only on selected paths, with varying intensities depending on the time of the year. Our conversations surrounded the idea of: where do we need light and how much light do we need?”

Not only were there decisions about what and where to light, decisions were also made to choose materials to contribute to a circular economy. Alexia said, “For the products chosen, we made sure that they are not emitting light upwards and that they are as circular as possible. They are either modular, which makes them easily maintained, with replaceable, exchangeable components, or they are made by recycled/ recyclable materials, with no virgin materials.

“We prioritise products from the local supply chain as this has a direct effect on the embodied carbon content of the lighting equipment during manufacturing, use and end of life phases. Our lighting proposals for Wimbledon Park Project have been designed using sustainability and circular economy objectives at their core.”

Circular lighting conference

As interest in the theme of a circular economy model covering all aspects of a global economy grows, so does focus on specific elements. In September 2022, the UK’s first ever circular lighting economy conference took place in London. ‘Circular Lighting Live’ was dedicated to sustainable lighting and its role in transitioning to a circular economy, exploring legislation, emerging technologies and new business models. Alexia Gkika spoke at the event representing Buro Happold.

She said, “There were a lot of different stakeholders there, including manufacturers, specifiers, designers and clients, which generated a very vivid conversation about where we need to put more effort and attention. Everyone wants to do the right thing, and everyone has a part to play. We all need to work together to effect real change.

“As a starting point, we need manufacturers to engage because a lot of the circular economy aspects come down to the product design itself. As specifiers, we need to promote sustainable qualities and strategies, thereby recording sustainability metrics as a way of securing our specification. And then from the client side, they need to see the commercial benefit of having these kinds of strategies implemented and embedded in their projects.”

Making lighting choices that benefit us all in the long run is not simply limited to big decisions made by industry. We all have a part to play. Alexia closes with this thought. “Ultimately, this is a behavioural shift – as many sustainable choices are.

“We need to move away from our routines and comfort zones in order to actually deliver positive changes for the planet underpinned by climate resilience strategies, because the way we’ve been living until now has been proven to be above and beyond the planet’s capacity, putting at risk the existence of new generations of all living beings.”

Link to the original full story:

%d bloggers like this: