Manufacturers respond to the impact of sustainability and energy regulations in the production and design of luminaires and lamps.
» The sustainability train is at the platform and everyone—including the lighting manufacturer—is getting on board. In the flurry to take an environmental stance, they are not only reacting to, but initiating change in, a market that is revealing a pressing need for 'green' products, technologies, and business practices. But what is driving this sudden attention? And how are lighting manufacturers responding to the issue?
Taking the Wheel
Several influential factors are driving lighting manufacturers' sustainable initiatives, including a combination of energy codes and regulations, new design standards, and consumer consciousness and demand.
Energy regulations, such as California's Title 24, which went into effect last October, not only ensure that energy-efficient products are being used, but encourage manufacturers to create more code-compliant goods to meet demand. Progress has been made in addressing commercial architectural lighting, and the residential lighting market is not far behind. As one of the most advanced and the few required residential energy codes, Title 24 is pushing homeowners to buy products that comply with its stringent requirements. Numerous products have already been released, with many more in development.
Regulations cited in the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building ratings system—whose requirements are based on a variety of energy codes, and stipulate compliance with IESNA 90.1-2001 as a prerequisite—are being referenced in state energy legislation, establishing LEED as a major standard. Currently, 13 states require new-construction public buildings to adhere to LEED. With energy conservation being the largest category in the increasingly influential system, efficient lighting design (as a direct and indirect contributor) has become more critical than ever. Moreover, the program's recent focus on homes (LEED-H), in the pilot test phase, and neighborhood development (LEE -ND), currently in draft, promises manufacturers another outlet for new families of efficient products.
Perhaps the most encouraging influence on manufacturers is the consumer. In a 2003 survey by the Alliance for Sustainable Built Environments (ASBE), 70 percent of American consumers said they are more likely to buy a product if they know the manufacturer uses environmentally friendly practices—a testament to the kind of market toward which customers leaning.
No Manufacturer Left Behind
Today, manufacturers' commitment increasingly extends beyond their products. Company-wide 'green' initiatives and operating philosophies, partnerships with federal agencies and environmental organizati?ns, and other genuine efforts to lessen their environmental footprint are becoming a standard part of the corporate profile.
Large lighting manufacturers have dedicated entire business models to the issue, affecting every facet of the company. Ecologic, Osram Sylvania's comprehensive initiative for both overall environmental commitment as well as a baseline for environmentally preferable products, was launched in 1996, explains environmental marketing manager Jennifer Dolin, 'to address the environmental impact in our products, processes, and packaging.' The number of products that now bear the Ecologic logo numbers over 800. GE has recently followed suit with Ecomagination, launched in May 2005, which encompasses all aspects of the company's numerous divisions. Through it, GE Lighting plans to significantly expand existing 'green' offerings. In addition to doubling research investments in greener technologies to $1.5 billion annually by 2010, the company expects to perform upgrades to its manufacturing plants that include new energy-efficient lighting systems by 2008.
As a founding member of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the organization responsible for LEED, and part of the ASBE, Philips' sustainability policy was integral to the company's strategic thinking 'far before it was popular,' claims Steve Goldmacher, director of corporate communications. 'We have an entire office—the Philips Corporate Sustainability Office—dedicated to just that.' In 1995, Alto was introduced, establishing Philips as a pioneer in the category of low-mercury fluorescent lamps. Today, as well as EcoDesign—an initiative focusing on all phases of product design to ensure environmentally conscious procedures—Philips' manufacturing plants are audited to comply with Philips' own sustainability criteria and those of ISO 14001 environmental management system standards.
For some manufacturers, sustainability is more than an initiative; it is a founding principle. David Bergman, founder of Fire & Water, an environmentally conscious product design firm established in 1992, says, 'As a practicing architect, I knew that there were limited choices in decorative eco-lighting, which designers assume means ugly color rendition and 'tree-hugger' granola aesthetics. My goal has been to make those assumptions obsolete.' Bill Gray founded HereThere Designs in 2001 after noticing a growing interest for sustainable products, as well as a glaring inadequacy in the market. 'Customers weren't being presented with real sustainable options. Most people talking about sustainable products are speaking in terms of twenty-five percent post-consumer recycled waste, which doesn't address the issue.' To fill the void, Gray's decorative luminaire's are 100 percent non-toxic, sustainable, and recyclable.
Let the Sun Shine In
It goes without saying that the quest for energy efficiency places an emphasis on the use of natural light. Not only a significant way to decrease power usage, daylighting, studies have shown, offers benefits for productivity and health. But the classic challenge: controlling the sun. Steps must be taken to minimize glare, maximize visible light transmission, and maintain thermal control. High-performance insulated windows, effective shading and window treatments, carefully placed reflective finishes, sensors, and controls can add up to a well-lighted space that requires minimal electric lighting during the day.
Arguably, the increase in the thoughtful application of natural light is breeding a new kind of 'lighting' manufacturer. Companies with product lines dedicated to harvesting and managing daylight (i.e., shading systems, louvers and light shelves, sensor and controls) are increasingly targeting the lighting specifier. Lightfair, the lighting industry's primary U.S. tradeshow, even launched in 2003 a special set of seminars and an area of the show floor dedicated to daylighting.
Reduce. Reuse. RECYCLE.
In the lighting industry, recycling and the use of recycled materials as a practice seems to have a ways to go. According to the Association of Lighting and Mercury Recyclers (ALMR), technologies to reclaim mercury from spent lamps and recycle them in a safe and compliant way were developed in the United States starting in 1989; however, there were few service providers. From 1990 until mid-1999, the recycling rate for mercury lamps grew to about 12 percent, and has continued to increase. Helping the number along, on July 12, 2005, New York joined Minnesota, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut, Rhode Island, California, and Florida in requiring that all commercial facilities recycle mercury-containing lamps.
But there is still much room for improvement: The Environmental Protection Agency's Reduce, Reuse, Recycle initiative hopes to raise the national recycling rate for mercury lamps to 80 percent by 2009. In this, the agency faces a challenge; the current national recycling rate for mercury lamps is only about 24 percent. Of the poor rate, Jennifer Dolin suggests, 'people tend to throw things away because they can.'
Some manufacturers are trying to make the alternatives as easy. Many company programs are tailor-made, providing the ease of convenience. Case in point: Fiberstars' Reuse Recycle Program, established at the request of their client Whole Foods, is a comprehensive program in which the company reuses 97.1 percent of the product (by weight), recycles 2.4 percent, and responsibly disposes of the remaining .5 percent. And it could not be any easier. When a client requests a replacement lamp, Fiberstars sends out a box with a return sticker. Once the spent lamp has been received by Fiberstars, the client is sent a coupon for 10 percent off her next replacement lamp. Although the cost is 20 percent greater than the cost of procuring and assembling new materials, Ted des Enfants, vice president and general manager of Fiberstars, says, 'it's another benefit that we can bring to our customers. It's helped our product sales and the customers' confidence in our technology.' HereThere Designs' luminaires are 'Designed for Disassembly,' meaning that each of the constituent components can be removed and recycled independently. Although Gray has the ability to recycle the acaba fiber used for shades in-house, 'all this talk of recycling is somewhat funny, since our work is designed to last forever with proper care.'
Recognition Breeds Education
Manufacturer efforts must ultimately follow consumer demand; however, 'we have to educate both our clients and end users about the responsibilities and limitations that come with super-efficient lighting systems,' explains Charles Stone, president of both the IALD and Fisher Marantz Stone. Inadequate consumer information about the energy, economic, and environmental benefits of efficient lighting technology, as well as the high initial cost of energy-efficient products, has limited sustainable lighting product purchasing. While consumers may demand environmentally friendly products, they have yet to learn how and where to use them.
An undereducated consumer base has proven problematic for manufacturers. Not knowing if there is a market for a new product makes it difficult to project sales. Larger companies have the resources to do extensive research and market development, but small manufacturers must wait until the market is ripe.
To solve this marketing challenge, manufacturers of all sizes are forming partnerships and alliances with federal agencies, environmental organizations, and clients to increase their chances of success. Fiberstars, for example, is working with supermarket chain Albertsons and Southern California Edison to validate the energy and heat savings expected from its EFO ICE product in refrigerated cases. Many manufacturers (including Sea Gull, Progress, MaxLite, and Lithonia) have chosen to participate in the Energy Star program, introduced in 1992 by the EPA. As the program's icon has appeared on more items—from air conditioners to light fixtures—consumers have gained awareness. A 2004 survey by the Consortium for Energy Efficiency found that consumer awareness of the Energy Star label had increased from 56 to 64 percent, between 2003 and 2004.
Smaller companies, such as Fire & Water, often rely on the technologies of larger manufacturers. Bergman says, 'Our first two product lines were not especially green because we were waiting on the technology. I had designs 'in waiting' for the dimmable compact fluorescent technology that I knew was coming out.'
The Future Looks Bright
Technological breakthroughs will continue to provide more sustainable options. While the technology is not yet fully developed, many are hopeful that LEDs will eventually render traditional light sources obsolete. The Energy Policy Act authorized the Department of Energy to invest $50 million annually from 2007 to 2013 in LED research and development.
Design practices and standards also promise to evolve, as they have already. The creation of the Cradle-to-Cradle (C2C) certification program, for example, promotes the idea of self-renewing design. Conceived by architect William McDonough and chemist Michael Braungart, the program challenges cradle-to-grave manufacturing of products that end up in landfills at the end of their 'life.' Instead, McDonough and Braungart are making 'cradle-to-cradle' products, whose materials are perpetually circulated in closed loops. Programs like this lend a way to police the industry, encouraging the serious to be certified. Mechoshade's recyclable EcoVeil product, for example, is in the process of receiving 'Silver' certification in McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry nomenclature, and the company plans to expand its range of products for evaluation under C2C.
Of course, there is plenty of cynicism about the true breadth and depth of company sustainability claims—and perhaps for good reason. Greenwashing, the marketing of 'green' initiatives when they really are not, is a documented problem. Blaming this ploy on a lack of regulation, organizations such as Canada-based Green Shift, who perform environmental assessments, are fighting back, analyzing products and 'the companies behind the products' to determine whether or not they are 'Genuine Green.'
While there is no doubting the sincerity of most manufacturers' environmental concerns, they are definitely positioning themselves to take financial advantage of the growing market. This is, after all, business. Whether touting sustainable initiatives for PR pitches, business strategies, or for the general good, does it really matter as long as the manufacturers' response is the means to a sustainable end? Sallie Moffat