The GreenLight Alliance (GLA) is a non-profit organization with leadership across Europe and North America, dedicated to applying circular economy principles to the lighting industry, targeting specifiers to drive change. I interviewed Emilio Hernandez, Chair of the GreenLight Alliance about the GLA’s goals and strategies.

Shiller: The Green Light Alliance (GLA) mission seems straightforward, to promote circular economy practices in the lighting industry, especially among specifiers. What actions is GLA taking to make that happen? That’s less clear on the GLA website .

Hernandez: That’s an excellent question. We’re approaching this from several angles. A key aspect is education and awareness. People can follow GLA and receive newsletters and invitations to discussions on circular topics and webinars from industry bodies and manufacturers who are pushing the dialogue on the subject forward.

But our main role is to build a trusted network and facilitate a dialogue between people across the industry.

Shiller: The Information Hub that GLA has built on the website is very interesting. There appear to be 11 documents, standards, and white papers about applying circular economy and sustainability principles to the lighting industry. Is it correct to say that most of these documents appear to be European efforts, rather than North American efforts, to-date? 

Hernandez: This is true, you need to start somewhere and we are relatively new in terms of our existence. We’re trying hard to reach out and have ambassadors in the US and are more than open to other regions, too. We have already found a lot of benefits to opening up the dialogue. To better understand different challenges, we collaborate on initiatives to further our reach, and concentrate the efforts that are happening.

Shiller: Are there any significant North American efforts to apply circular economy principles to the lighting industry, that you’re aware of? 

Hernandez: I’m not aware of any significant lighting focused circular economy initiatives in North America (but happy to be proven wrong!) However, there is a growing requirement for Life Cycle Analysis (LCA’s) and environmental product declarations (EPD’s), in construction. New York’s NYSERDA and California’s Title 24, for example, are bringing in requirements on a state level, and LEED is offering credits for building materials with EPD’s, or materials that use ‘healthy’ materials.

LCA’s are an important way of measuring a business’s efforts to improve the embodied and emitted carbon within a product’s lifetime, hence the LCA incubator that we are partnering on with the IALD Lighting Industry Resource Council (LIRC). This has participating manufacturers from the US who are really interested in developing these principles as part of their business model. StickBulb and Lumenwerx, for example, were very quick to be part of this discussion, and PNNL has also been a helpful partner on the project.

Shiller: As you are based in Sweden, do you see Europe leading this effort, globally?

Hernandez: There are currently financial incentives to migrate over to circular business models in Europe, via subsidies as part of the EU Green Deal, which is the ‘economy’ part of the circular economy. Good intentions will only take this so far, so it needs to be economically viable. We’re aware of manufacturers’ concerns over the uncertainty of costs associated with decoupling from linear business models and producing EPD’s. It can be an expensive process so we’re trying to understand how this can be achieved in lighting quickly, reliably, and affordably.

Shiller: The GLA website has a case study page with 9 case studies listed. Do you have a favorite case study among those nine, that best shows what’s possible in bringing the circular economy to lighting?

Hernandez: The best thing about them is that they all have different insights into approaches to circularity. This migration to circular design isn’t a straight line process. There are legacy products on the market which can be innovatively remanufactured, and there are approaches to new fixture design or specification that will yield benefits at the end of their designed life. However, something we are trying to help people understand is that a low embodied carbon product, that is majority recycled or disposed of at the end of its first life is not really circular, it’s just a lightweight linear economy.

Shiller: If any LightNOW readers find this subject interesting (almost half of LightNOW readers are lighting specifiers), what are some ways that they could get more involved in GLA and its mission (i.e. join GLA, subscribe to GLA, other?)

Hernandez: Please get in touch with us directly if you have a specific need or would like to be a more involved community member at info@greenlight-alliance.com, and subscribe via the website and you’ll receive a newsletter with updates, periodically. Our LinkedIn community is useful for up to date sharing of webinars and articles, and they can all be found here.

Shiller: Thank you for sharing your expertise, Emilio.