The power of light to change your world for good
Light Notes banner

What do 80% of employees value?

Image Jonathan Borba on Unsplash.

A basic chair and a desk might not be enough to tempt them to brave the commute!

The Buffalo Organization for Social and Technological Innovation (BOSTI) Associates reported back in 2000 that the workplace makes between 8 and 32% contribution to job satisfaction, 3-10% contribution to individual performance and up to 15% contribution to team performance (average 11%). (*) And that was before Covid gave us all a different perspective on how, where – and why- we work.

A more recent study by Staples found that 80% of office workers said having good lighting in their workspace is important to them, and two-in-five (40%) deal with uncomfortable lighting every day. And 32% said better lighting would make them happier at work (*).

So what does ‘better lighting’ mean?
1. Visual comfort
Image Jonathan Borba on Unsplash.

1. Brightness – bright enough to see what you’re doing and where you’re going. There is a huge variation in personal preferences between people and by task- and up to one in five of us are photosensitive (*). One study found that preferred levels ranged from 252 to 11723 (* *). The new standard EN12464-1 reflects new knowledge about the way that we experience ambient light levels in a space, so it includes light on the walls as well as on the horizontal plane (*). Just throwing a load of lux at the situation could be a waste of money – and leave people pretty uncomfortable too.

2. Glare and contrast. Light shining directly in your eyes triggers a powerful stress response – increased heart rate, blinking and eye movements (*). Direct glare also causes neck strain and a feeling of being under stress, further reducing comfort and efficiency (* (*). The balance of light, particularly around the head, known as ‘cylindrical illuminance’ makes a difference to how well you can judge facial expressions – doubly important on zoom (*).

3. Flicker – all lights flicker ‘on and off’ to some degree – just too fast to ‘see’ it. This gives around 1 in ten of us a headache or eye strain- and for around 1% of those, flicker can trigger migraines and even epilepsy (*).

Image Jonathan Borba on Unsplash.
2. Physiological Effects

These are broadly triggered by a parallel system that is particularly sensitive to ‘blue’ wavelengths, although they also respond to other parts of the spectrum in ways that are still not entirely understood.

1. Body clock setting – Bright light tells the body it’s time to wake up, which in turn improves sleep. Which in turn helps with memory, metabolism and mood. The average office is around

1,000 times darker than it is outside even on a cloudy day (*). Daylight is the ultimate renewable and can help with performance, mood and eye strain (*) 

But there is growing evidence that artificial light during the day can help – especially if you can switch off in the evening (*).

2. Alertness – bright light increases speed, heightens emotional response and increases accuracy. According to this small study, the best scores for working memory are under 1,000lux, 5,000k (*)

3. Mood – bright light may be more effective than drugs in treating depressive symptoms, whether you suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder or not (* and *)

4. Personal control. A landmark study by the Light Right Consortium found that “People with dimming control reported higher ratings of lighting quality, overall environmental satisfaction, and self-rated productivity … people with dimming control showed more sustained motivation, and improved performance on a measure of attention … (*)

Giving the lighting a bit of thought – that includes daylight – can help to deliver on operational goals. But many of the professionals who make decisions about lighting have Capital Expenditure targets. So how does it stack up for them?

The results of recent conversations with business leaders from around the world, including the industrial components giant Shaeffler, award-winning architect BDP and project consultant Annell, suggests that investment can tick those boxes too. (image).

Lighting makes up between 5-10% of a project budget. The light fitting itself is around 50% of the installed cost. Better-quality panels generally last longer so the cost per hour often work out about the same. Better-quality luminaires tend to have more reliable and sophisticated switches and sensors, with potential energy savings of up to 70% (*). Choosing lights that meet the new Ecodesign standard (mandatory from 1 September this year) will help to future proof the project too.

The real test of value should surely be the overall solution in use rather than ‘lumens per watt’: An £8 billion study by InnovateUK found that that…

‘nearly every non-domestic building had higher carbon emissions than predicted during the design phase. In some cases, total emissions were 10 times the Building Emission Rate calculated for Part L compliance.’

Rod Bunn and Peter Raynham’s brilliant work on schools come to the same conclusion (*).

Better-quality lighting is a solution, not a product. It’s not rocket science, can deliver on CapEx, OpEx and Environmental targets. And help your team get back to work.

Image Kraken Images on Unsplash.

Please join me and a team of leaders from across the value chain for lighting to discuss current incentives and the drivers for change. Debate hosted by John Bullock with Graham Edgell, Director of Sustainability and Procurement, Morgan Sindell: David Geddes, Director, C20 Target: Florence Lam CEng FIET CIBSE FSLL, Arup Fellow and Global Lighting Design Director, Arup: Phil Marsden, Project Director, Muse Developments: Mark Ridler, Head of Lighting, BDP and co-founder, Green Light Alliance: Gayathri Unnikrishnan, Vice President, Lighting Standard Development, International WELL Building Institute: and Simon Wyatt, Director, Sustainability, Cundall. 9 December, 4-5:30pm via zoom.

Get in touch!