As Signify hits environmental goals, it rethinks the pandemic-struck commercial market

Sept. 8, 2020
New business opportunities could shrink in office buildings, says CEO Rondolat, but other areas would take up the slack, such as horticulture, IoT, UV-C, wellbeing, and 3-D printing. Meanwhile, the company is carbon neutral and not stopping at that.

While proudly announcing carbon neutrality across most of Signify's operations, CEO Eric Rondolat today outlined a lighting future that will emphasize even more environmental sustainability and that will lean on products and services that don't rely on the uncertain future of office working in a pandemic-shaken world.

Acknowledging to LEDs Magazine that “there are strong signs at this point in time that there may be less investment from promoters and investment companies in general in office spaces,” Rondolat specified a number of business areas that Signify is pursuing to pick up the potential slack.

Those include horticultural and other food-oriented lighting systems, 3-D printing of lights, Internet connectivity of lighting across homes and businesses, ultraviolet C-band (UV-C) lighting to help kill the virus that causes COVID-19, and others.

One constant through all the areas will be an emphasis on environmental sustainability, as Rondolat continues to keep a wide-ranging eye on Signify's electricity consumption, product packaging, travel, and other factors, and as he steps up efforts to push suppliers in the same direction.

The company today reported that it has now reached carbon neutrality in all operations, although it did not include Cooper Lighting Solutions and Zhejiang Klite Lighting Holdings Co. in that assessment, as Signify has not yet integrated the recently acquired US (Cooper) and Chinese (Klite) groups into its environmental accounting.

It also claimed to now be using 100% renewable electricity for its own operations. Nicola Kimm, Signify's head of sustainability, environment, health & safety told LEDs Magazine that the power sources are primarily wind and solar, and do not include nuclear a technology that some green campaigners believe should be part of global CO2 reduction initiatives.

Signify said that power supply contracts negotiated in Texas and Poland have assured full renewability. It's not clear how those agreements might help in China. Signify consumes more energy and electricity in Poland than anywhere else, with factories and operations there accounting for about 25% of the company's power diet, Kimm said.

In overall energy use, Signify said it has reduced carbon emissions by 70% since 2010. Measures have included energy-efficient technologies, more sustainable modes of transport, optimized logistics, less travel, and carbon offsetting.

Earlier this year, the company announced plans to eliminate plastic in its consumer packaging by the end of 2021.

It is now embarking on a new set of environmental goals, and also pushing environmental guidelines into its supply chain.

“I’m extremely proud of all the Signify employees and thank them for supporting our carbon neutrality objective,” said Rondolat. “It is a truly significant achievement for us and we call on many others to join us. However, the world is still facing demographic change, urbanization, climate change, and resource scarcity. This is not a time to pause and celebrate, but a time to become even more ambitious and accelerate our efforts to address these challenges.”

Signify said that it is putting in place measures for 2025 that it claims move up objectives of the United Nations's 2016 Paris Agreement on climate by 6 years. Among other things, the Paris Agreement aims to limit temperature rises to 1.5°C over pre-industrial times.

The company said in a statement that it will accelerate climate improvement “by increasing the energy efficiency of our portfolio, which will reduce emissions of our customers, and by driving carbon reductions at our suppliers.”

In a phone call with journalists this morning, Rondolat elaborated that there is still room for improvement in LED efficiency, and pointed out that smart, Internet-connected lighting controls can add to the big efficiency strides and energy reductions made by LEDs over the last 10 or so years.

Also by 2025, the company plans to double the revenue it derives from “circular” (reusable) products and services, to what it suggested will be 32% of total revenue.

And in related do-good measures, Signify set a goal for a similar doubling to 32% of revenue derived from lighting products for human wellbeing, said it will double its commitment to diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and, in yet another twofold increase, said it will double the percentage of women in leadership positions to 34%.

All of these socially-ambitious intentions come as Signify continues to grapple with the big question of lighting's future in a world where one of its main markets the commercial lighting sector faces all the unknowns of a working world that might stay at home rather than return to the conventional workplace as a consequence of COVID-19.

“We don't know yet exactly what the trend is going to be,” Rondolat acknowledged to LEDs. “But there are strong signs at this point in time that there may be less investment from promoters and investment companies in general in office spaces. For us, this means less new business.”

What's the upside?

“We also believe that companies will invest in improving the existing offices,” Rondolat said, noting that the LEDification of workplaces still sits somewhere between only 4050% and thus opportunities abound.

On top of that, penetration of connected IoT lighting is still low, as LEDs has reported many times.

“So I think there's still a lot to do in the lighting industry by connecting the spaces where people live either as a consumer in the home or also as a professional in their corporate environment,” Rondolat told LEDs. Earlier this year, in the early days of lockdown, Rondolat made it a mission to use the slowdown as a time to educate the market on connected lighting.

Given the uncertainties of the commercial office market, Signify is stepping up efforts in other areas, most of which Rondolat described as “directly linked to sustainability.”

Those include what he called “food security” lighting that Signify is developing and selling into agricultural, horticultural, and other settings such as fish farms. In the big picture, these help to address the world's food shortages, he noted. Such topics will be addressed at LEDs Magazine's HortiCann Light + Tech virtual event on Oct. 2021, 2020.

In a matter of human sustainability, and with the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 directly in its sights, the company is cranking up production of conventional UV-C lamps that can be used for disinfection.

“It's something we need during the crisis, and it's something we will need after the crisis,” Rondolat said. He again declined to reveal early sales numbers, but told LEDs that revenues should “start to be material in 2021 full year.”

The company's general lighting for wellness schemes would also apply as part of the human sustainability push.

Back on the environmental side, Rondolat also pointed to Signify offering 3-D printing of luminaires as a means to reduce materials and environmental impact of manufacturing. And he noted that Signify is ramping up solar-powered lighting initiatives.

MARK HALPER is a contributing editor for LEDs Magazine, and an energy, technology, and business journalist ([email protected]).

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