By James Tu
As increasing focus is placed on safety and health during the COVID-19 pandemic, facility management leaders and their partner organizations are tasked and entrusted with providing spaces that enhance occupants’ health and well-being. Fortunately, due to the rapid growth of building technologies over the past decade, there has never before been so many options to improve the performance of interior environments. One of the most straightforward means of doing so is through upgraded lighting. Advanced lighting systems can provide more amicable and productive environments, improve facility hygiene through UV technology, and quarterback building energy efficiency. That is to say that lighting can deliver far more than just light and energy savings.
How Can Human-Centric Lighting Help
The latest advances in human-centric lighting (HCL) incorporate high quality lighting with electronics, software, and networking technologies, that optimize building performance for occupant safety and health. HCL is lighting that considers both the visual and non-visual effects of light to enhance individuals’ physiological and psychological health and well-being.
The concept, only first emerging circa 2013, has grown rapidly over the past few years. These capabilities, including (but not limited to) flicker-free, dimmable, color tunable lighting, as well as UV disinfection, have the potential to elevate safety and boost occupant comfort, morale, and productivity, helping organizations regain their footing to come back from these challenging times more quickly. In addition, improved energy efficiency through quality LED lighting can bolster an organization’s bottom line, helping to backfill foregone profit on lost revenue over the past several months.
Return on Productivity. While a desire to improve energy efficiency often initiates the LED discussion, other non-energy benefits can provide a far greater financial return. JLL’s real estate industry rule of thumb, called the “3-30- 300™”, states that on average it costs a building $3 per square foot in utilities, $30 per square foot in rent, and $300 per square foot in payroll each year. If improved lighting reduces unproductive time by even just five minutes per day, making occupants just 1% more productive, the financial impact would equate to eliminating 100% of the energy spending in the facility.
A Switch to Circadian Lighting. An immediate and impactful option to improve occupant well-being and productivity is circadian lighting, which alters the output wavelength and intensity of the light to match how the human body’s 24-hour sleep-wake cycle, or circadian rhythm, naturally responds. Occupants could use brighter, higher color temperature, more bluish light to suppress melatonin and raise alertness during the day, and dimmer, lower color temperature, more yellowish light to allow the secretion of melatonin that induces calmness later in the afternoon or evening.
Energy Focus’ patent-pending EnFocus™ line, for example, leverages on existing AC powerline to provide energy efficient, flicker-free, dimmable, and color tunable lighting, or circadian lighting, with a change of the wall switch and the fluorescent or LED lamps, without the need of pulling new data cables or introducing wireless communication protocols that might be subject to cybersecurity risks.
Syncing of our body’s circadian rhythm is particularly critical considering the current pandemic. According to an article in The Harvard Gazette, “sleep is emerging as the latest casualty of the COVID-19 crisis.” Sleep could be affected by the new schedules that have many people spending even less time outside, resulting in not getting that much needed sunlight. Daniel A. Barone, MD, FAASM, FAAN, associate medical director of the Weill Cornell Center for Sleep, told NeurologyToday, “Sunlight is our biggest zeitgeber — literally ‘time giver.’” With people spending almost 90% of the waking time indoors, quality, circadian artificial lighting in spaces will facilitate optimal productivity during the day and rest during the night, particularly during winter season when sunlight is weaker.
The intimate relationship between sleep health and immune health is the driver for the most powerful benefits of circadian lighting. Studies have shown that individuals who obtain less than seven hours sleep have an almost threefold increased likelihood of becoming infected by the rhinovirus — the common cold — relative to those who get eight hours or more. Additional research found that individuals with insomnia may have compromised immune function, potentially leaving them more vulnerable to infection. By promoting sleep quality through circadian lighting, occupants may have another tool to support the immune system.
UV Disinfection. As COVID-19 continues to linger, more immediate benefits of HCL can be achieved by installing modular UV lighting systems, such as Energy Focus’ soon-to-be-launched EnFocus UV troffers, with built-in UV-C disinfection and TLEDS (tubular LEDs). This upgrade can provide constant, effective air disinfection in facilities when occupants are present, while still providing improved aesthetic, flicker-free, and circadian-ready lighting.
Facility executives and managers today are facing unprecedented challenges from the COVID-19 pandemic that has caused dramatically heightened concern about occupant safety and health. Advanced technologies and products surrounding HCL are making it possible to provide highly impactful light quality with disinfection capability that will make facilities more sustainable financially, environmentally and health-wise, delivering stronger triple-bottom-line impacts. As Winston Churchill is credited with saying, “Never let a good crisis go to waste.” This is the perfect time to transform facilities into the human-centric age through HCL.
Tu is Chairman & Chief Executive Officer of Energy Focus, Inc., an innovator of sustainable LED lighting technologies and solutions. He is an advocate for LED and human-centric lighting technologies that provide environmental, health and business (“triple-bottom-line”) benefits.
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