The luminaire's reflective surfaces are often metal-backed as well. Today's highly reflective (95%+) polished and finished aluminum and extremely white paints are essential in making efficient luminaires. Anodizing aluminum uses considerable electrical power, while powder-coat painting, an otherwise environmentally friendly process, uses petroleum byproducts and electrical energy. Water based paints probably won't hold up well enough for this application, but traditional high-VOC paints and finishes should be avoided unless environmentally contained and rendered benign.
Next up is refracting media. Plastics are widely employed in lighting, but the fossil fuel base, shipping issues, embedded energy, and environmental shortcomings are significant. Consider glass: It has high embedded energy, but it is generally environmentally benign (even with high lead content), and when the product life ends, glass can be recycled and used to make other products. The trade-off is that plastics, while posing an environmental issue from “cradle-to-grave,” offer superior resistance to breaking and shattering. Plastics used in lighting seldom end up recycled.
Then there are the electrical components. Because UL and other regulations are so specific, it will be difficult to choose internal components from a sustainable standpoint. Still, where you have choices, make them carefully. For instance, use the “efficient” ballasts for T8 lamps—they save at least 10 percent of the energy of the T8 system.Sustainable Practices
Perhaps the best way to ensure the most sustainable lighting is to ensure that the manufacturer's practices are sustainable. Domestic and European lighting manufacturers are required to meet comparatively rigid environmental restrictions. Many have taken additional steps to follow ISO 14000/14001—a series of international environmental management systems—and other standards including environmental auditing, environmental performance evaluation, environmental labeling, and life-cycle assessment. As a minimum, these mean the use of environmentally favorable materials, design and manufacturing processes, packaging and transportation methods, installation and maintenance procedures, and disposal and recycling programs. Products from Asian manufacturers, including major components and subassemblies, should be carefully checked to determine whether the factories and business practices meet these and other U.S. or European Union standards.
Finally, evaluate how far the products are shipped. In LEED 2.1, rewards were given to the use of indigenous and locally manufactured products. Given the global market of lighting, with lamps coming from Eastern Europe and ballasts from Korea, it's hard to say where a lighting product is made. As a suggestion, try specifying products where the final point of assembly is in the U.S. or North America, or if you're really aggressive—within a short distance to the project. When shipped, ensure that the packaging materials are recyclable and require the contractor to follow through. And finally, require the contractor to meet or exceed all LEED-standard jobsite practices.Maintaining a Green Perspective
The recent political climate change is likely to create a new group of novice greenies, as well as ardent politicians, who will seize apparent “sustainable” opportunities to make a point. For example, there is a growing worldwide sentiment to ban the incandescent lamp. (At least one state considering such a ban—Connecticut—had previously worked toward banning mercury-containing lamps). Therefore, it's possible that future laws will dramatically change our choices, and even on a modern project, some popular “sustainable” generalizations will force a variety of lousy design choices.
To prevent the lighting designer's work from “green” misdirection, it is necessary to develop and maintain a current and thorough green perspective. For the foreseeable future, energy and mercury should dominate decisions about lighting. Once these issues are under control, then foray into the wide world of products and all that goes into them. As a guiding light, start with “less is more”—that will be a hard adjustment for our industry, but it's a truly green ethic we need to learn.