Review: Drivers for Change webinar from Age of Light Innovation Group

Drivers for Change was held on Thursday 9th December to look at the areas within lighting specification that we need to look at and improve if we’re ever going to Build Back Better.

Disclosure: this isn’t going to be the most objective of reviews, given that I chaired the discussion, though I hope that there won’t be too much argument about what I have to say here. If you do want to argue – you know where I am.

Shelley James invited a roundtable of experienced industry professionals, each bringing a different viewpoint to what we see as a common situation:

  • Graham Edgell  ( Director of Sustainability and Procurement, Morgan Sindall)
  • David Geddes  ( Director at CO2 Target)
  • Florence Lam  (Global Lighting Design Director at Arup)
  • Phil Marsden   ( Project Director for Muse Developments)
  • Mark Ridler  (co-founder of Green Light Alliance  //  Head of Lighting at BDP)
  • Gayathri Unnikrishnan (VP of Standard Development for WELL Building Institute)
  • Simon Wyatt  (Director for Sustainability at Cundall)


If you’d like to watch the webinar gain – or for the first time, the link is at the bottom of this article.


So what are the Changes that we need to drive towards? There are two major areas where we need to engage:

Health and Wellbeing:

We’ve learned so much over the past few years about how we function; physically, psychologically and emotionally and how our lit environment affects those functions. Light is no longer a simple illuminant, it’s an actor in our biome.

The Environment:

While the Climate Emergency takes all of the headlines – quite rightly – we also need to look towards the husbanding of our planetary resources. We are on the cusp of exhausting vital reserves of materials. It all comes together in the matter of designing for Circularity and reducing our wastage and carbon emissions.

But there’s something else as well. We need to find a better way of doing what we do:

We have an unhealthy situation where much of what we do does not lead to a positive outcome for the client, nor for the occupants of the buildings that we’re responsible for lighting.

As you might expect, there was not much disagreement when we talked about Wellbeing and Environment. After all, everyone involved around the table sees sustainability built into their work in one way or another. The structural cracks, such as there were, appeared once we started talking about the way that lighting specifications are managed. Everything was very polite, but it was obvious to all concerned that the round table had devolved into a more conventional project table, with design ambitions on one side and contract management on the other. Sound familiar? A classic face-off.

We know that the major faultline runs between the creation (and client approval) of the specification and the procurement of the equipment. The argument runs something like this:

Designer: The Value Engineering process is solely determined by monetary value with insufficient attention being given to the qualitative metrics designed into the specification.
CAPEX isn’t everything; focussing on OPEX can deliver a more (cost-)effective outcome once the building is in us

Contracts: Specifications are often insufficiently robust to be able to protect them in a CAPEX-driven environment. OPEX may offer a different outcome, but this is not a current feature of cost management. Project costs are based on delivery of a building, not in its on-going use and  management.

So what do we have here; two tribes each speaking a different language, or one side of a family not listening to the other side of the family? Here are a couple of comments that deserve closer attention:

We don’t use lighting designers; our M&E engineers can deliver the same outcome.’

‘Its time to move away from costing projects on a monetary budget and towards achieving an  carbon budget.’

The first statement is typical within the construction industry and echoes the view that Lighting is simply a technical exercise in delivering illumination. Lighting Design deals with the fancy stuff, and is often sacrificial. You might argue that, at its heart, that is all that lighting design is about. You’d be wrong, of course, though the prevalence of that view is what is holding open the door that leads to poor outcomes.

The second statement goes to the heart of where we are today. The Climate Emergency may be resolved – or at least mitigated – but it will never go away. The days when carbon release didn’t matter are gone forever and everything that we do will have to be audited for its carbon cost. That’s why manufacturers are heeding the call and embracing the need for Environmental Product Declarations that provide the data that project carbon auditors will need to make their assessments.

Two documents published this year by SLL, when taken together, move us towards a carbon-sensitive future. TM65 (Embodied carbon in building services: a calculation methodology) and TM66 (Creating a circular economy in the lighting industry) reinforce the importance of providing source data that needs to be harvested by specifiers (designers) from the manufacturers.

As for the true role of the lighting design, I think that Kit Cuttle has it in a nutshell when he says:
“The designer’s skill in firstly writing a watertight specification, and then in enforcing it, is crucial for success, but that is not new. What is new is an emerging awareness of the role that skilful  specification writing can play in enabling lighting practitioners to gain full advantage of the expanding opportunities offered by our burgeoning technology. “
(SLL Lighting Research and Technology: 2021:53:700)

I’d like to see two things happen, and in short order:

  1. Lighting designers learn a more robust way of creating their specifications to achieve the ends that Kit describes so well.
  2. The procurement process expands its remit to take into account OPEX as well as CAPEX and that specifications are valued to deliver outcomes rather than lowest (contract) costs.  

The very positive outcome of the Drivers for Change webinar was the general feeling that this conversation needs to continue. This has been taken up by Shelley James and Age of Light Innovation Group and we can expect to see more conversations like this taking place during the coming year.






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