Spotlight on sustainable design in the UK


    February 08, 2021


    Where does the UK stand on sustainability? And what eco-friendly design projects showcase their success to date?

    UK’s sustainability status


    Back in 2019, 17 UK-based architecture studios rallied together to declare a climate and biodiversity emergency. Including Zaha Hadid Architects, David Chipperfield Architects, and Foster + Partners, this passionate plea demonstrated the UK’s commitment to building better, more sustainable design practices. After all, the built environment currently accounts for 40% of the UK's carbon emissions.

    And the UK is already planning for a more sustainable post-COVID world. A new project by the Center of London called Lighting London will explore how the city can improve its lighting to better serve its citizens, while also lessening its environmental impact.
    Although when compared to Europe, the UK could certainly do better in the fight against climate change, it seems to be moving in the right direction. But before we take a closer look, what exactly constitutes sustainable architecture and design?

    Elements of sustainable design


    From finding creative ways to improve airflow, to managing temperature levels, to bringing daylight in, eco-friendly building design can feature a lot of moving parts. For any architect tasked with creating a sustainable space, what are some important things to consider?


    Certainly, how the structure contributes to the bigger picture. Moving away from a throwaway society and towards a circular economy means using renewable materials that can be recycled or repurposed at end of life. Bamboo, cork, or reclaimed wood are viable options for construction; especially important for an industry that has been slow to respond to more sustainable practices.


    And the interiors can have just as much impact, with lighting being a sure-fire way to save energy while also supporting well-being. For example, smart luminaires fitted with sensors use the power of the Internet of Things (IoT) to support applications such as automatic dimming. This can have a significant effect on reducing energy consumption.

    What’s more, lighting that is designed to sync with our circadian rhythm — the human body clock — is proven to have a positive effect on health and wellbeing. NatureConnect is our solution to bringing the benefits of natural light indoors. It mimics the natural patterns of daylight to create healthy, engaging and attractive environments.
    Architecture & Light -- Sustainability in Design (Brought to you by Philips Lighting)
    What’s more, Philips Hue features different formulas that can be adjusted to support you throughout your day: from bright white light to wake you up in the morning, to warmer tones helping you relax at night.

    Passive pioneers


    Originating in Germany, Passivhaus refers to an ultra-energy efficient home or building, requiring little to no heating or cooling.

    Back in 2009, property developers Malcolm and Fiona Terry teamed up with determined architect Justin Bere to build the UK’s first ever passive house in North London. Overcoming challenges with height restrictions and the logistics of offsite fabrication, the result is an unassuming timber home that sits beautifully among its leafy surroundings.
    Installed with a solar panel, a green roof, plus a rainwater tank that collects reusable water, the house serves as a forerunner to all sustainable property design. And the heat-exchange system is so efficient — thanks to the in-built ventilation — that the air quality is cleaner inside than out.

    The Enterprise Center


    The UK has come a long way since 2009, and now has well over 1000 passive buildings all around the country. And the designs are getting more adventurous; advancing from simple family homes to complex multi-purpose spaces.

    The Enterprise Center, part of the University of East Anglia in Norwich, was built in 2015 as a space for business support workshops, networking activities, and open plan offices. Dubbed the UK’s greenest building, Architype’s award-winning design went on to become the first international building to offer Passivhaus performance alongside renewable materials.


    Sourced from local suppliers, the renewable building materials have been left deliberately exposed, allowing users to engage directly with them while promoting a circular economy. Plus, as the center is set adjacent to the historic gardens of Earlham Hall, it complements the surrounding landscape — a wealth of green space that supports the well-being of users.


    Alongside its Passivhaus status, it also achieved the BREEAM Oustanding rating, and is recognised internationally as a world-class facility.

    City of London smart lighting


    On top of being Passivhaus pioneers, the UK has added another sustainable notch to its belt: smart lighting.


    The City of London has embarked on a project to reduce both its power consumption and energy costs by switching to connected lighting. Having already cut down by 60%, LED luminaires that are connected via the IoT are a simple yet progressive way to lessen environmental impact.


    Eventually, there will be 15,000 luminaires across the City of London. Thanks to data collected via sensors, the software can adjust the light levels depending on location, time, or when it’s busiest. What’s more, by communicating with other sensors that react to traffic or pollution, the connected lighting becomes part of a smart city ecosystem.

    City of London Highways Manager Giles Radford sums it up: “The strategy aimed to deliver a creative, holistic and smart approach in which light and darkness are better balanced to meet both a functional and aesthetic need.”

    Signify’s take on sustainable lighting


    Retail giants Marks & Spencer installing our 3D-printed luminaires made for another UK sustainable lighting success. The luminaires are 100% recyclable to support a circular economy, and the manufacturing process has a 47% lower carbon footprint than traditional metal designs. To top it off, they look great!

    Architecture & Light -- Sustainability in Design (Brought to you by Philips Lighting)
    And it’s not just about light itself. Linked to the London Illuminated River project, our Social impact app listens for site-relevant information across the web, allowing continuous, real-time monitoring and analytics. Measuring the social impact of a lighting project has never been easier.

    What’s next for the UK?


    Thanks to the pandemic, the world’s focus on sustainability is greater than ever. Despite the relatively unknown outcome of leaving the EU, the UK has made significant progress so far — but will it continue?

    With projects such as the Citicape House in London, which will feature the largest green wall in Europe upon its completion in 2024, it looks like eco-friendly design is set to play an important role. And with growing global awareness of the benefits of a circular economy, well-being, and connected lighting, the UK could be seen as having a prominent influence on sustainable practices worldwide. Watch this space!

    Pioneers of Light’s mission

    Pioneers of Light is a community of the world’s top architects, lighting designers and engineers, united by a passion for realizing their visions through innovative lighting. We guide and inspire the next generation to deliver sustainable lighting solutions that make the world a better and brighter place.


    Want to know more about the Pioneers of Light, get in touch!


    Banner image: Crossrail Sky Garden Canary Wharf, London, United Kingdom © Howard Kingsnorth

    About the author:

    Anissa Abbou

    Anissa Abbou

    Head of Global Professional Specification, Signify

    For further information, please contact:

    Signify Global Integrated Communications

    Neil Pattie
    Tel: + 31 6 15 08 48 17

    About Signify


    Signify (Euronext: LIGHT) is the world leader in lighting for professionals, consumers and the Internet of Things. Our Philips products, Interact systems and data-enabled services, deliver business value and transform life in homes, buildings and public spaces. In 2023, we had sales of EUR 6.7 billion, approximately 32,000 employees and a presence in over 70 countries. We unlock the extraordinary potential of light for brighter lives and a better world. We have been in the Dow Jones Sustainability World Index since our IPO for seven consecutive years and have achieved the EcoVadis Platinum rating for four consecutive years, placing Signify in the top one percent of companies assessed. News from Signify can be found in the Newsroom, on X, LinkedIn and Instagram. Information for investors is located on the Investor Relations page.

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