The future of sustainable lighting with Katrin Discher: ‘I’m always looking up’
By: Jessica Merkens
Katrin Discher is Director of Sustainability at TRILUX. In her work, she is always looking to see how lighting can be more sustainable, how it can be produced in a sustainable and circular way and how it is used best. What are the latest developments in the world of lighting?
“My whole life, I have been preoccupied with lighting: I’m always looking up.” Discher lives with her family in Amsterdam. “When it comes to sustainability and circularity, this city has already come a long way. You can feel it. There are a lot of initiatives and many people already think about circularity in the design stage.” More often than in her homeland Germany, she says.
Discher feels the necessity to commit herself to a sustainable world. “I’ve got four children and two grandchildren. In what fashion do we leave this planet? That is the responsibility we have to take.” In a company with 5000 employees, change is not always quick. “Having targets and a clear vision are important. What percentage of our products is circular in the near future? How can we prolong the lifespan of our products?” Originally, TRILUX is a family company with a strong sense of responsibility. That’s in the company’s DNA,” Discher says. “Everybody is working on sustainability and that feels good.”
We need to take the design of sustainable lighting into account, so that the fixture remains in use as long as possible
“The most sustainable light is sunlight, of course,” Discher says. “But what does a more sustainable future for artificial lighting look like?” That question became part of Repro Light, a European research project of two years, investigating sustainability in the lighting industry. “We looked at energy efficiency and different materials. Not only for the diversity of application areas, but also for our products. What happens when we use less wiring or fewer LED modules? What’s the impact of this?” “The lifespan of the fixtures is quite long, but a fixture does not remain in use until the end of its life, because buildings change overtime. Maybe taste changes or a new tenant moves in,” Discher tells. “We need to take the design of sustainable lighting into account, so that the fixture remains in use as long as possible. That’s the most sustainable solution, next to optimising our materials.” This design may be different for different industries. “In retail, for example, interior changes every six to eight years. Whereas for logistics, the lighting in a hall remains the same for about twenty-five years. How can we take the tenant or user along in this process?” The design and utility phase are most important. “There’s lighting in every building,” Discher stresses. “In every living room, on every street.” There is a lot of progress to be made in the way the user interacts with light in a space. For example, by using light management systems. Sensors that detect if someone is in a room and dim light, based on this information. “Intelligent light remotes are an important issue,” Discher says. “And it should already be included in the design of a building.”
Katrin Discher: Director of sustainability at TRILUX
Prototype Parelia armatuur in Keulen
A big part of circularity is modularity: designing products, such as light fixtures, so that separate parts are easily detachable and can be reused. This aspect has been thoroughly explored. But is modularity always sustainable? “Not per definition,” Discher says. “It depends on the product and the application. If you put modular clips on every LED module in industrial lighting, which might sustain for 100.000 light hours, you have quite a bit of extra parts. Whereas, percentage-wise, the amount of LED modules that break, is rather small compared to the extra used material. It’s out of balance.” What Discher would like to illustrate with this example, is that there’s not one answer. “This was an eye-opener for us.” From the European research, it seems that there is a lot to improve with the LED module and its driver, Discher tells us. These contain Rare Earth Elements, a diverse cluster of rare earth metals mainly produced in China. “We need to take a good look at how we can take the LED module out of the fixture, so that the metals can be reused. And we need to explore how we can reduce the Rare Earth Elements, too.”
A minimalistic design can make a fixture more sustainable, Discher says. “We have started a new research project into sustainable materials and fixture designs.” Not only the metals will be inspected closely, more sustainable options for plastic are being explored as well. “Like bioplastics (polylactic acids), but not all polylactic acids are biodegradable. Which one is the best? There definitely is progress being made when it comes to biodegradable materials. A lot of companies are working on it.” Together with the designers at GRAFT, TRILUX designed a new version of the Parelia fixture, with biodegradable materials. “It was our first big experiment. What are the consequences for the product if we use these materials? The prototypes have been hanging in our showroom in Cologne for a few months now. Here we can experience the stability of the material. A test, so that we can produce the entire series later,” says Discher.
Nobody can solve this on their own, we need to cooperate and be partners
“What’s my perspective on the future? Producing sustainably as a company is a must. It’s a constant process. You’re never done,” Discher says. She continues: “I often feel that people always have to choose between sustainability and profitability, but in my opinion, the two go hand in hand. Materials are getting scarce. If you can reuse them, you save on procurement.” “When I look at the lighting industry, I hope every company has developed a clear climate strategy in a few years. And that we find a solution within our industry for circular design.” As a company, you can start this right away, Discher thinks. “You don’t have to deliver 100% immediately. You can start with 30%. In this way, you can positively impact other companies that are still less invested in sustainability. Nobody can solve this on their own, we need to cooperate and be partners.” Read more: Get to work with BREEAM: ‘I see a lot of low hanging fruit in the built environment