The evidence around the impact of lighting on humans is growing. The science of the circadian rhythm is demonstrating the effect of light on health and wellbeing; attracting attention from building owners and operators looking to add value to their properties. The emerging concepts around human-centric lighting (HCL) is highlighting the poor performance of our traditional lighting systems.
“In the past, we spent a lot of energy trying to make our lighting systems as uniform as possible. We now know that it matters when, where, and how much light we are exposed to, and the field is working to develop lighting systems that offer more holistic benefits,” says Siobhan Rockcastle, Director of the University of Oregon’s (UO) Baker Lighting Lab.
Rockcastle is a co-author of a whitepaper titled ‘The Impact of Lighting and Views On The Workplace Of The Future,’ developed with three colleagues from UO. Through the 15 page document, the team goes impact by impact to show the benefits of HCL in comparison to traditional systems. Concluding that there is now enough evidence in the workplace setting to recommend broad concepts around HCL for improved employee performance.
“The demand for daylight, views, and personal controls are continuing to increase in the workplace,” says white paper co-author, Kevin Van Den Wymelenberg, PhD., Director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment. “At the Institute for Health in the Built Environment, we believe that enough is known about the influence of the visual environment on human well-being and performance to recommend action.”
The theories around HCL suggest that by controlling lighting and views we can influence various physiological and psychological processes to improve occupant well-being, workplace productivity, and satisfaction. According to the UO paper, increased access to daylight and views has demonstrated its ability to improve healing in healthcare facilities and increased productivity in workplaces. However, no direct link to reduced absenteeism has been comprehensively proven to date.
The paper also describes how lighting and views impact property value, as well as employee recruitment and retention. The researchers point out that lighting is a significant element in the first impression of a space or company, which is especially impactful for those evaluating a place they may work day-in-day-out for years to come.
The light we receive during the day also impacts our sleep at night, and a well-rested employee is more likely to be a more productive worker. Furthermore, the architecture of our typical office buildings means that not everyone can sit by the window. Traditionally status, office politics, and luck determine who “bags” the desk next to the window, leading to a huge difference in the quality of light received by different employees within the same workplace.
“Employees near windows in the workplace receive 173% more white light exposure during work hours and sleep an average of 46 minutes more per night than employees who do not have the natural light exposure in the workplace. Workers without windows reported poorer scores than their counterparts on quality of life measures related to physical problems and vitality, as well as poorer outcomes on measures of overall sleep quality,” explains our recent in-depth report: The Human Centric Lighting Market 2019 to 2024.
This is also backed up by an earlier Memoori survey, which showed that employees themselves believed natural light had the greatest positive impact on productivity in the workplace. Abundant natural light had the most significant contrast in our survey, 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,” our HCL report states.
The UO paper covers several of the topics studied in more depth in our HCL report. Highlighting the regulating effect of light on the circadian system, the influence of color (wavelength) and timing on wellbeing, and the physiological responses to light influenced by long-term exposure. The researchers also noted that increased daylight exposure can yield significant positive effects, too much can be problematic through glare and over-exposure issues.
“The visual environment impacts nearly every facet of our lives. It directly influences our mood and cognitive performance during the day and the quality of our sleep at night,” the UO paper reads. “Occupant interactions with light and views significantly influence the experience of the built environment, impacting interrelated physiological and psychological responses. Increasing access to daylight, views, and occupant control of the visual environment improves satisfaction, productivity, and social interaction.”
More specifically, the paper suggested that access to daylight and views increases satisfaction, facilitates stress recovery, and has the potential to improve creative problem-solving, while lighting color influences moods. The paper goes on to suggest that personal control of lighting intensity improves occupant satisfaction. Concluding that we are now at the point where lighting can demonstrate its value to businesses and building owners/operators.
“We believe that enough is known about the visual environment’s influence on human well-being to recommend action, particularly regarding the support of healthy circadian rhythms. However, we caution against over-generalizing what are currently highly contextual and typically discreet findings,” concludes the UO study, funded by Lutron Electronics Inc. They recommend a measured approach to lighting, maximizing natural daylight and supplementing with artificial lighting that mimics the cycles of the natural environment to reinforce the body’s natural rhythms. “This approach should be dynamic,” they add.
More and more studies are recognizing the imminent emergence of this lighting trend. “HCL is an inevitable reality for the future of lighting. Results of ongoing and future HCL pilots and installations will continue to demonstrate the benefits of the technology and highlight the negative health and productivity impacts of non-HCL solutions,” states our recent and comprehensive HCL report.
“It may take some time but as the cost of tunable lighting comes down, the lure of health and productivity benefits will make HCL a standard feature in lighting for all kinds of building. HCL is just one part of a human-centric revolution in our built environment.”