The lighting industry, like so many parts of the economy, faces extraordinary challenges during this tough period.
Mick Ventola is the founder and managing director of Ventola Projects, the Leicestershire-based electrical installations and LED lighting specialist. He is one of the Department of International Trade’s export champions under the auspices of the Midland Engine and works with clients in the US leisure and entertainment sector, and with partners in Europe, the Middle East and East Asia.
In this article, Mick explores the lessons he has learned during the crisis and how the lighting industry can grasp it as a timely opportunity to build on the great work it has already done to reduce its environmental impact.
Crisis a chance to go even greener
The world had changed enormously in just a few short months. Nobody could quite have predicted how much of a transformation has already occurred and it will most likely be several years before we know the full extent of the impact of this ongoing pandemic.
But what I can tell you is that there are some early lessons we can learn in the lighting industry, even at this relatively early stage. And I believe they can help us all in the medium and long-term.
We’ve perhaps all seen the unprecedented footage of clear water running through Venice’s Grand Canal. You’ve maybe even spoken with your family about the air around us having something of a cleaner quality now, as there are fewer vehicles on the road spewing out noxious fumes.
As time goes on, I’m sure we’ll find out about plenty of other ways this forced change to our behaviour has led to change. Small crumbs of comfort at this challenging time but – like many – I’m looking for the positives we can take from this experience.
So, while this is undoubtedly a human catastrophe, I firmly believe we should also look at this period as an ecological opportunity. A chance to build on the great progress we have already made as a sector in making our operations and our products that little bit greener still.
We’ve done so well on that front, with widespread innovation in LED technology in recent years, for example, making a significant difference to people’s and businesses’ energy bills and carbon footprints.
But I believe we can go so much further both as individual businesses and as an industry collective.
In addition to the health concerns the COVID-19 crisis is creating for all of us, it’s also impacting everybody’s pockets. Economic and commercial uncertainty is rife, so the pressure is on like never before to make savings.
And the lighting industry is particularly well-placed to help people and businesses do just that. So, I’d urge you to take this time to have a root and branch review of your processes, your materials and your working practices.
We’re in the middle of what we’re calling a research and development project assessing how we can upgrade the lighting products we’ll be releasing into the US and Middle East markets later in the year to make them as ‘green’ as possible.
We’re looking at ways we can source locally to help the community in our area and reduce the distances components travel. We’re talking to our suppliers to explore ways they can increase the proportion of recyclable materials used in product manufacture.
And the response we’re getting is really encouraging. We’ve had some positive conversations about making products quicker and easier to install, so we can spend less time on-site, and more robust, so we don’t have to travel back and forth quite so often to deal with service calls.
That means we have the confidence to now promise customers that, wherever and whenever possible, we will endeavour to further expand mend and repair services, rather than replace or update components and products, in order to reduce the depletion of the planet’s valuable but finite resources.
We’re also applying the same logic to new business enquiries. In the past, more often than not myself or a member of our technical teams would fly to overseas locations to initiate design visits.
But, in the current situation, we know that’s not possible, so we’re taking advantage of available technologies and encouraging clients to send us all the technical information they have – rendered images, photos, 3D building plans etc. – and we’re continuing to quote remotely.
That’s already saving us two and sometimes three site visits in each case, so we’re going to carry on in the same vein after the lockdown. Fewer air miles and hotel stays, less CO₂ emissions and food waste, and no time spent idling in departure lounges.
Our project costs will effectively lower as a consequence and we can pass on the savings to the customer. There’s no need to tell you how that goes down with them, so it’s good thinking all-round.
I won’t pretend for a second that any one of these simple actions – and sometimes not so simple actions – will save the planet. But, like we’ve heard for several years now from British Cycling and the likes Sir Dave Brailsford, this is about the accumulation of marginal gains.
LED lighting is a great place to start. It can save you money, it will help the environment but it also has the ability to enhance your quality of life, whether that’s relaxing at home or, at some point hopefully in the not too distant future, welcoming customers and clients once again into your place of business.
You can use it to increase footfall and dwell-times in retail, for example, that boost your revenues. You can create lighting conditions better suited to efficient working in offices and you can design light shows that really add to the entertainment experience. LEDs can make an impact in all kinds of ways.
And the good thing, as I see speaking with suppliers almost weekly, is that the technology doesn’t stand still. There’s always something new to learn about better product longevity, improved energy efficiency and new sustainable materials.
So, I’d encourage you to evaluate how you currently do things and to leave no stone unturned. Focus on manufacture and on product development, speak with your partners to understand how you can help them do the same.
I’m proud of the role our industry has played in recent decades, alongside many other sectors, in pointing the way towards a better, brighter future. But there is so much more we can do as torchbearers.
If we can all make these incremental changes to the way we work in the lighting industry, the multiplier effect will really start to kick in. And we can show the leadership that inspires other areas of the economy to follow us on the path.
This is a difficult time for us all, there’s no hiding from it. But we’ve already had some compelling glimpses of how things can improve when we come out the other side.
As we all understand, when the sun goes down, there is always a new dawn. And it’s up to us to make the very most of tomorrow.