by Josh Feinstein and Melissa Mattes
The architectural industry has made big strides in the last 5-10 years in its sustainable offerings of products, building practices, cleaner materials, and regenerative ideals. But where does this leave the lighting industry? By comparison, we are lagging behind the rapidly expanding sustainable advancements of the larger built environment. While some may argue the reductions in operational carbon with LED technology, we must pause and ask ourselves, “Is better efficiency and lower wattage enough?” While we can boast high efficacy, have we considered the embodied carbon of our fixtures, or essentially where our luminaires come from, what are they made of, and where they go at the end of their life?
Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting, a Boston-based lighting design firm initiated and completed an industry-wide sustainability survey this past year. The findings were eye-opening and began a long overdue discussion on material transparency, climate impact, and social health and equity within the lighting community. The survey questioned manufacturers’ industry standards for lesser-known benchmarks such as The Red List, EPD’s and Declare & Just Labels. Two members of the firm, Reiko Kagawa and Melissa Mattes, recently presented their research and sparked an important discussion at an Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) chapter roundtable.
While the survey indicated most manufacturers were familiar with current material transparency initiatives and measurable benchmarks, many were just beginning to consider the use of these tools to offer more transparency for their products. EU’s Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) was the most known and implemented directive. Results showed the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Declare Label, which is essentially an ingredients label for building products, was gaining popularity due to its simplified and digestible presentation of information involved with luminaires. HPD’s are also just beginning to get more headway in the industry, as they are another excellent display of material transparency that can be offered for a very low cost to the manufacturer.
The survey’s big takeaway was twofold:
1. There is strong willingness to make these needed changes, and
2. There is a great need for more clear-cut guidelines for manufacturers.
As we know, projections from the UN and Architecture 2030 show that if we continue business as usual, by 2050, half of the total carbon emissions of global new construction will be from embodied carbon. So while we have made incredible improvements lowering operational carbon with LED, we must go through a similar evolution, but now with material transparency, to make similar strides in reducing the embodied carbon required to manufacture our luminaires.
For those of us connected to the built environment, the best thing we can do at this point is ask. Ask the manufacturers for this information, talk to clients about the impact they can have through their projects by requiring this transparency. Learn about the available material transparency labels on the market and utilize them as tangible ways to measure the impact of our designs.
Josh Feinstein, LC is principal, and Melissa Mattes LC, LFA, LEED Green Assoc., is senior lighting designer at Sladen Feinstein Integrated Lighting.