How to overcome barriers to ecoinnovation in the lighting industry?

Even efficient lighting technologies, such as LEDs, struggle with environmental problems. To support the design, production and diffusion of highly efficient LED products, the cycLED project has analysed the barriers to such ecoinnovations and suggested solutions to overcome them. This has been achieved by means of interviews with key stakeholders of the LED sector.

According to the IEA, the amount of electricity used by lighting sources corresponds to the quantity of electricity produced by nuclear power plants in the whole world. This corresponds to 20% of global electricity consumption. Nowadays, obsolete lighting technologies such as incandescent bulbs are being replaced by bulbs which are more efficient from both ecological and economic points of view, such as LEDs. However, even the latter generate environmental problems that need to be addressed so that LEDs can live up to their environmental promises.

Several types of obstacles

Some obstacles relate to firms themselves. For example, a lack of a clear vision and strategy regarding ecoinnovation clearly deters ecoinnovation. The complex nature of LED technologies, which use many different knowledge sources, can also block ecoinnovation. For example, if LEDs are not modular enough when a small piece of an LED product breaks and cannot be replaced, such as the driver, the whole product will have to be discarded. Also, lighting firms wishing to switch to more efficient technologies may lack qualified staff (engineers, sales persons, ...) to support this transition, or employed staff might be too busy on existing tasks to venture into new areas. The lack of financial resources is also a key barrier to develop ecoinnovative LEDs, especially for SMEs.

Other barriers are found outside firms and relate to financial or labour markets and user practices, to policies and standards, to the LED industry (which e.g. may not be very supportive of ecoinnovation), or to the global economic, political, and ecological contexts.

Main barriers to ecoinnovation & recommendations

Our qualitative study enabled us to identify 13 major barriers to ecoinnovation for LED firms (ranked by decreasing order of importance).

The main barriers according to the cycLED SMEs are mentioned below:

  • Lack of certification mechanisms to check out the technical specifications of LED products
  • Inadequate support from national policies to support ecoinnovation and/or emerging LED technologies
  • Increasing and unfair competition from non-European firms
  • LED drivers, due to early failure
  • Lack of funding to support SMEs’ ecoinnovation
  • Failure of educational institutions to provide enough people well trained to develop ecoinnovations
  • Existence of litigations between firms
  • Lack of technical personnel to ecoinnovate

Examples of initiatives

 

Some solutions to these barriers are discussed below.

The most important barrier is a policy one (“Lack of certification mechanisms”) that has not been addressed in Europe, but is dealt with in the US. Indeed, the US DoE “LED Lighting Facts” programme aims “to assure decision makers that the performance of solid-state lighting (SSL) products is represented accurately as products reach the market”. A similar programme could be launched at European level. This barrier has thus been given a key priority, and support from the professional association Lighting Europe has been sought to overcome it. Finally, on 7th January 2015, the association has released A Joint Industry Call for Action to strengthen the pan-EU cooperation in market surveillance and thereby avoid market distortions.

The second barrier also relates to policy issues (“National policies do not provide adequate support”) and could be dealt with by introducing a financial support scheme for consumers that adopt ecodesigned LEDs. In California, according to The Climate Group (2012) an “Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program” (EECBG) granted USD 37.3 million to 40 small cities and counties to develop LED street and parking area retrofit projects. In Europe too, similar initiatives have been started, such as DOLL in Denmark, which we have already mentioned in a previous article.

A last example with the fourth barrier concerns the weakness of LED drivers. To solve this problem firms have chosen to train their staff on how to choose robust and efficient drivers (e.g. the ones which offer at least 7 years of warranty), while others have decided to manufacture their own LED drivers. Lighting associations have started to tackle this issue, since “Robust LED drivers are critical to enabling quality solid-state lighting”. For example, the UK-based Lighting Industry Association published a “Guide for OEMs and Producers of LED based Luminaires”, in which it advises what to consider when selecting a driver: is it appropriate to the application? What output voltage does the driver operate at? What are the efficiency requirements of the LED solution? Etc. We can also advise LED firms to take a look at CELMA’s “Guide Selection of Control Gears (drivers)”, or to take part in training programmes offered by industry associations such as the Cluster Lumière in France.

The author is Cédric Gossart, an Associate Professor in the Telecom Business School of the Institut Mines-Télécom in Paris, where he coordinates the ICT & Environment research network. He is leading Work Package 8 on barriers to ecoinnovation in the CycLED project and during the workshop ‘How to truly eco-innovate in the lighting industry?’ on 11 February he will make a contribution to the interactive session ‘Eco-innovation barriers and how to overcome them’.