Codes + Standards, Energy + Environment

The Circular Economy Applied To Emergency Lighting

A British emergency lighting manufacturer, Mackwell, shared the following information with LightNOW on how the emergency lighting industry in England is contributing to the evolving circular economy. The circular economy is a series of strategies to minimize the carbon footprint of products and buildings through thoughtfully planning the recyclability of components, energy usage, and embedded carbon, including at a product’s end of life.

CIBSE is the British association of building services engineers that promulgate building industry standards analogous to IES standards for lighting. In October of 2021, CIBSE TM66 was published. This technical memorandum is a guidance document on how lighting products – luminaires – should be assessed in terms of their circular economy credentials. It includes a checklist, a method of assessing a product’s circular economy performance, and real-world examples of good practice.

At the same time, the mechanical, electrical, and plumbing engineering (MEP) sector within the construction industry– in which many lighting products are sold – also has CIBSE guidance, TM65. TM65 is a methodology for assessing embodied carbon of products linked to MEP systems. Increasingly, lighting projects are seeing requests to assess products by using this framework.

Other means of assessment exist, such as the ‘cradle to cradle’ methodology. This approach ensures that solutions are designed and produced so that when they reach the end of their lifetime, they can be truly recycled. This means everything is either recycled or biodegradable. By adopting this methodology, the design and production of luminaires should allow for upcycling at the end of their life.

Emergency lighting is currently not well addressed within these methodologies. Emergency luminaries have several unique characteristics that can potentially influence their circular economy credentials and are not currently covered in the guidance. These include:

  • The embodied carbon associated with the choice of battery chemistry
  • Recyclability of different battery chemistries
  • Charging cycle characteristics and different energy consumption levels that are associated with these
  • The efficiency of different types of charging circuitry
  • Modularity in design to allow the re-use of components such as optics, drivers, and luminaire housings
  • Optical designs that allow increased spacings between emergency luminaires to achieve compliance, thereby minimizing the embodied carbon in the total number of emergency luminaires required.

Automatic and remote monitored emergency test systems also exist that can help to avoid unnecessary labor traveling to and from sites to carry out manual tests. This can also help to reduce the embodied carbon associated with emergency lighting installations while at the same time ensuring safety compliance.

Emergency lighting is inherently more complex than standard luminaires. This creates more opportunities to increase the circularity of emergency lighting products, installations, and test systems. Continued product development and evaluation will move the emergency lighting industry toward more sophisticated circular economy solutions.

Thanks to Mackwell for sharing this information with LightNOW readers.

  • James Benya September 8, 2022, 1:05 PM

    The circular economy is, like many of the contemporary solutions to the enormous waste created by modern life, long overdue and welcome. However, in my opinion the most cost effective solution for most lighting is to leave the product in place, gut it and replace components with modern alternatives. The existing infrastructure of electrification ages slowly compared to the aging of the active components of lighting products, and there is no need to remove housings, conduit, wiring, etc. in most cases, unless of course the building itself is being changed. There will always be some waste/recycling of components, but for goodness sakes leave the housings and wiring in place and install modern batteries, drivers, updated control electronics, and LED light sources. This applies to almost every luminaire ever made.

    • David Shiller September 9, 2022, 12:17 PM

      Thoughtful comments as always. Your approach allows the circular economy focus to narrow to recyclability of components. Thank you, James.


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