What is 'Science Based Circular Economy'?

Maybe you heard us advocating for ‘science-based Circular Economy’ and wondered what it means. Well, the short definition is ‘BS-free Circular Economy’, the longer definition is…
Waste and environmental pollution is a planet-sized challenge that affects everyone, but it’s especially grim for people who work in lighting because we have to live with the knowledge that our industry is one of the worst perpetrators.
Unfortunately, that’s not even the worst bit 😬.

As the general population became more sustainability-aware, an idea gained traction that manufacturers should be more accountable for the products they make. Architects, designers and building engineers, who specify a high percentage of lighting, were especially interested in this idea.
It was a classic corporate PR situation and it triggered a classic corporate PR response. New ‘eco’ logos, ‘green’ colour schemes, new badges, buzz words and award scheme sponsorship $$’s to celebrate what became known as ‘CR’ or corporate responsibility.

Marketing-led transformations are superficial and even big ones can be executed by a small, agile team in a single office. The ‘real world’ of supply chains and production lines is very different - even tiny changes are complex and costly and therefore, despite the new appearances, lighting corporations continue to churn out more or less the same products as always. This ‘appearance Vs. reality’ thing became known as ‘greenwash’.

Another catchy term that rose to prominence was ‘Circular Economy’, an ill-defined shorthand for ‘we’ve got a plan’ that became used by corporate PR and marketing departments everywhere.
Google Trends report | ‘Circular Economy usage 2004-23’. Some days it definitely feels like the lighting industry PR is most of it.

In 2002 it all came together as ‘WEEE’ (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive) a Europe-wide ‘settlement’ between corporations and governments to establish ‘open loop’ recycling infrastructure. A small charge per kg of electrical products is levied on manufacturers, to fund 3rd party processing of electrical waste back into raw materials.
The UK lighting industry has spent big on marketing the idea that WEEE is ‘Circular Economy’ but we’re in the group who strongly believe it’s not, as defined by independent ‘science-based’ advocates, such as Braungart / McDonough (scientist / architect) in the seminal book ‘Cradle To Cradle - Remaking the Way We Make Things’ and others, hence our use of the term ‘science-based Circular Economy’.

We think of WEEE as a rebranded element of the conventional (ie. linear) waste industry (ie. includes landfill, incineration) that depends on waste, masks the seriousness of the situation we’re in and blocks real solutions to end waste completely, such as our work on paints, plastics and adhesives. 

‘If you want to go to Mexico, and you're driving toward Canada, even if you slow down you're still going to Canada’ 
- William Mcdonough (Cradle To Cradle author)

So what’s the problem with WEEE?

1 - Conflicted:
A common critique is that it takes waste that was created in privately owned ‘for profit’ factories and pushes  operational responsibility and cost for it ‘downstream’, onto local government and local communities where it ends up.
2 - Inefficient:
The objective is to convert ‘waste product’ back into single materials which can be made into ‘new product’ again. It’s a compelling concept, but in reality, after 20+ years of government / industry investment $millions most waste (according to WEEE’s own figures) never experience this at all and go directly to landfill or incineration instead.

3 - Wrong Priorities:
The system prioritises high-value / easy to extract materials, such as copper, but it’s  a very different story for low-value hard-to-extract materials such as plastics, paints, adhesives etc. These are the materials that contain the chemistry, carcinogens, microplastics, etc, that are most harmful to human health and the environment.
4 - Wrong Incentives
Manufacturers expect to a way below 1% of turnover to make their waste problem go away for ever. It’s a steal . It's also capped at <X> so the biggest polluters pay exactly the same as medium-sized polluters!
The Factorylux Way:
We believe the size and severity demands new legislation to compel makers of non-consumable products to operate an in-house ‘closed loop’ program for repair / upgrade and end-of-life. Only the maker can leverage all residual value within components / materials, only the maker can do it to a science-based standard. Merging ‘maker’ and ‘un-maker’ is the only way to incentivise product / process design innovation.

We offer 3 luminaires and one track system, simple products with just enough variants to light most spaces well. We don’t employ any sales reps, pay any sales commission or offer upsell / cross-sell incentives - unnecessary lighting products are a major driver of waste.

This is the core of our design and manufacturing methodology:

Our core DFMA methodology, inc. patent GB2607027. All Factorylux lights and lighting track disassemble with hand tools for efficient repairs, upgrades and re-use.
Our ‘free-from’ alternative to paint or powder-coat. Low energy, durable, endlessly repeatable. No toxic chemistry, plastics or VOCs. Looks great.

Looks like paint but isn’t. Zero-VOC, non-toxic, sustainable, LEED compliant for indoor, low-wear applications. Natural solid colour pigments in a cellulose (wood) and minerals (clay) binder. HVLP spray application. 

100% recycled / recyclable paper. All boxes / inserts designed and cut in house. All wraps, tape, pallets and strapping are also paper-based. 
We’ve spent years developing a business / manufacturing framework to make our own ‘Closed Loop’ possible. When you specify or buy a Factorylux product you literally help fund this work.