Shedding Light: Advocating the use of Human Centric Lighting – monthly column featured in Sparks Electrical News (Crown Publications)

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Many South Africans no longer focus on COVID-19 as the talking point in every conversation. If any mention is made, it will usually be to complain about the wearing of masks, something that everyone knows is essential to curb the spread of the virus. What we do know is that it has had a devastating effect on the economy of the country, business, and many individuals. Apart from those who have lost their employment and those still being made redundant, many have suffered emotional stress and continue to live with uncertainty.

With that background, it is more important than ever to provide a more pleasant working environment, one that will make a positive contribution to the well-being of all employees. One that will lift the spirit and mood of the employees.

I have written on the subject of lighting having to cope with changing office environments to include social distancing. The improved working environment must include appropriate artificial lighting which embraces natural daylight. This is nothing new. I have been advocating the use of good lighting which embraces natural daylight. As time advanced and LED lighting has made it possible, Human Centric Lighting (HCL), which embraces natural lighting, now has a very real role to play.

In South Africa, developers, clients and professionals in the built environment are not even considering this option. Perhaps this is due to lack of knowledge or to not knowing how to show the economic case for HCL which will benefit clients.

I attend many webinars, not simply to pass time, but to learn more about how overseas lighting professionals do their lighting designs now. It is always essential to continue to learn, to adapt and apply best practices to benefit all stakeholders in any project. Most recently, I attended an IES webinar in the USA, a US Green Building Council webinar, also in the USA, and an International Association of Lighting Designers (UK) webinar specifically on the provision of lighting for health, wellbeing and productivity of the occupants of buildings.

On 9 July, a friend and colleague in the UK, Terry John, presented an excellent webinar for BHA School of Lighting on the subject ‘Light Nutrition’. It is amazing to consider light as a form of nutrition. Well, of course, since the beginning of time, homo sapiens has derived Vitamin D from sunlight.

The importance of ensuring that daylight plays a role in all office buildings cannot be over-stressed. We always include calculations for daylight autonomy, continuous daylight autonomy, spatial daylight autonomy and now Annual Daylight Exposure calculations for offices before commencing the artificial lighting design.

Perhaps I should explain to readers what HCL is defined as by lighting professionals. HCL is a continuously evolving symphonic amalgamation and integration of electronics, software, sensor and other IoT technologies with the central aim to optimise the positive impact of lighting on human health in harmony with available natural daylight.

According to vast research and the findings that were published in the Journal of Circadian Rhythms, altering the intensity of the light, the distribution of the light, the spectrum of the light and how the light is presented at different times of day, directly impacts health and wellbeing. It directly impacts the timing of an individual’s circadian rhythms, their mood, their ability to focus on tasks and, for the employer, their productivity.

It is generally and internationally accepted that business operating expenses include 90% for staff and 1% for energy. If lighting uses 20% of that 1% total energy cost, the use of LEDs can eliminate 50% of that cost.

In a study by the University College of London, an experimental workplace – complete with circadian lighting or better known as Human Centric Lighting – was created. It was populated with a group of office workers, while there was also a control group in conventional old-type office lighting. The results were astonishing.

Both groups were measured for various aspects. The experimental group productivity improved by almost 20%, the employees were 38% calmer and 10% more focused than those performing the identical tasks in the control group.

What does this mean in real terms? A 20% improvement in productivity translates into benefits of at least 18% of the total expenses versus 0.1% from energy savings. The good news is that HCL products are available in South Africa from a leading manufacturer. The lighting controls needed to create the HCL environment are readily available. There can now be no excuse for not ensuring that every office lighting project be based on Human Centric Lighting.

COVID-19 has elevated performance expectations for buildings and their occupants throughout the world. Sustainability standards such as LEED and WELL scoring systems have been adapted to include HCL. More recently, UV-C disinfection is being included in some luminaires.

Philip Hammond


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