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“There is a growing body of evidence to suggest that the brightness and wavelength of workplace lighting is not only essential for enabling sight, but that it can also have strong non-visual biological effects, in regulating the human circadian system, and impacting the biological clock of workers, as well as their mood and alertness,” states our recent report – The Future Workplace: Smart Office Design in the IoT Era.

“Studies have demonstrated the beneficial effects of light, on vitality, depressive symptoms, alertness, sustained-attention span and task performance, as well as awareness and sleep quality,” continues the lighting section of the in-depth report. “All of these factors have a direct and substantial impact on productivity, and are therefore of great interest to the enterprise.”

The report included a comprehensive survey of office workers who answered questions on the impact of technology in their workplace. One of the most clear results of this survey was on the impact of natural light on productivity, with more than six times as many respondents believing natural light aided concentration than those who didn’t.

“Conditioned by evolution to respond to the tones and rhythms of sunlight, natural light is the ideal form of light to benefit employee concentration and therefore productivity,” the survey’s analysis concluded. Many studies have come to similar conclusions and this growing body of research is having a significant influence on the design of lighting in modern buildings and for the workplace in particular.

“Daylight is the primary source for architecture,” says Hayden McKay, AIA, a New York–based principal at HLB Lighting Design and leader of the firm’s daylighting and sustainable design studio. “It has been over time and it still remains the first thing that should be considered in creating architectural forms and fenestration orientation.”

“I always believe in designing daylight first,” says Florence Lam, a London-based Arup fellow and the company’s global lighting design leader. “It is the direct process of any lighting design. Daylight should come first as the base layer to get [light] right, to get the right view and sequential experience. Then, after that, it’s about applying the electric light overlay.”

Electric light has traditionally made up a significant proportion of a building’s energy consumption and while the use of daylight reduces the need for artificial forms of light, the additional solar radiation requires additional cooling to keep workplaces at amicable temperatures. However, the ongoing phaseout of incandescent bulbs and their replacement with LED lights, as mandated by the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, has balanced the two factors to a certain degree. “Because LEDs are so efficient, there’s very little energy to be saved with electric lighting and daylight harvesting controls,” McKay explains.

“The energy densities are much less now—below 0.5W a square foot in many cases as opposed to 3W a square foot as in previous decades,” explains Gregg Ander, FAIA, former chief architect of Southern California Edison and the author of Daylighting Performance and Design. Ander’s native California, alongside Massachusetts, Texas, Minnesota, and Hawaii are leading the way on what he calls the “decarbonizing” of their economies, “you have this massive transformational market shift going on driven by executive orders, legislation, regulation, codes, and a whole bunch of things that’s leading to a perfect storm.”

At the forefront of this energy efficiency and human-centric evolution in buildings is the Green Building Council (USGBC) with its LEED rating system and the standards of the International WELL Building Institute. “LEED is focused on buildings. WELL has its focus on the body and the person: It’s human-centric.” says Matthew Tanteri, associate principal and daylighting practice leader at HLB Lighting Design. The two organizations in tandem are helping bring about greener, healthier and more productive workplaces.

In 2017, the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) headquarters in Washington, DC was the world’s first space to achieve both WELL Platinum certification and LEED Platinum certification.

The building features human-centric design elements including: biophilic design strategies, which introduce natural elements into a space to help reduce stress and increase air quality; sound masking systems; rigorous water quality standards; and a circadian lighting system developed to expand efficiency by helping to regulate the body’s physiological processes.

“At ASID, we take tremendous pride in being a champion for good design and demonstrating that design impacts lives – to be the first space awarded WELL Certified Platinum under WELL v1 and LEED Certified Platinum is an incredible honor,” said ASID CEO Randy W. Fiser. “We began this project with a clear goal of showcasing the many ways design can positively affect the health and well-being of employees while boosting resource efficiency.”

Research by Cornell University on the ASID workplace found that employee satisfaction on the environmental quality of the office increased significantly, as did overall job satisfaction, perceived support by the organization, and perceived organizational productivity. ASID’s headquarters, alongside other pioneering spaces around the world act as models for all buildings, they prove that our energy hungry and impersonal working environments can become champions of environmental responsibility and occupant wellbeing.