Can LED lighting save the planet?

Sustainability Report 2015

LED light bulbs produce light at a fraction of the energy consumption of a traditional light bulb.
by Mark Loeffler, Director

During the multimedia warm-up to the keynote address at Greenbuild 2014 in New Orleans, the narrator declared that LED lighting is one of the top 10 technologies that can slow down climate change. More recently, our founding principal Patrick Bellew stated in CLAD Magazine:

Mark Loeffler and Rebecca Mintz survey hotel lobby lighting as part of the recent LED retrofit study

“The one thing that’s made the biggest difference across the board is the arrival of the LED light bulb. It produces what we need at a fraction of the energy consumption of a traditional light bulb, and it doesn’t produce heat, so you haven’t got to air condition it out once you’ve got the lights on. That’s transformational in a major way.”

As a sustainable lighting designer with more than 30 years of experience, I fully agree with both assertions. But without thoughtful design, it is just another technology that can frustrate users and undermine energy and environmental gains. Atelier Ten’s lighting design practice is well-versed in the design, specification and application of LED technology to deliver exceptional visual quality, energy efficiency and carbon savings, in support of our clients’ ambitions for sustainable and desirable buildings. We understand how to design using revolutionary new form factors (beyond simple “light bulbs”) and to take full advantage of its inherent dimmability and unprecedented controllability of light intensity and color temperature. Our knowledge of healthy building issues enables us to also explore the application of circadian lighting to enhance physical, visual, and psychological wellbeing.

The market for LED lighting is led by the consumer electronics industry, not by the electrical commodities companies that we have conventionally associated with luminaires and lighting control gear. “Improvements” are made in a matter of months, not years in the way we were accustomed to thinking about slow advancements in incandescent, halogen, fluorescent and metal halide lighting. A new lighting system that we design and specify today will be obsolete before the project is built in two to five years. Rapid evolution means that we have to carefully specify the essential performance criteria and stay in touch with manufacturers to ensure that they understand what is driving our project. Our best applications are carefully designed but flexible enough to accommodate advancements between design and procurement and installation.

There is an urgent and growing market for retrofitting existing lighting systems with LED technology to reduce energy and carbon consumption as well as to improve controllability. LEDs are considered vastly better than compact and linear fluorescents. The public perception is accurate: LEDs provide superior color quality, controllability and lumen output per watt compared to compact fluorescents. But good retrofitting results from good redesign. A simple “one-for-one” replacement will seldom yield satisfactory results. That’s where Atelier Ten’s lighting design practice comes to the rescue.

We are currently working with Starwood Hotels and Resorts Worldwide – one of the world’s leading hotel and leisure companies with more than 5,500 hotels operating in more than 100 countries under the St. Regis, The Luxury Collection, W, Westin, Le Méridien, Sheraton, Tribute Portfolio, Four Points by Sheraton, Aloft and Element brands – to develop a corporate LED Lighting Redesign and Retrofit Guide in tandem with writing new design standards for lighting quality and quantity in every typical space type. For nearly a year, we have been working with Starwood’s Architecture and Construction, and Environmental Sustainability teams to develop these new standards which will deliver considerable savings for energy consumption, operating costs and carbon emissions while improving lighting quality across their global properties in every brand category.

LED lighting is one of the top 10 technologies that can slow down climate change

For Yale University, we are consulting with the sports facilities managers to convert existing metal halide systems to LED for hockey, tennis and other sports. Most recently, we’ve been consulting with Yale on the LED relighting of the iconic David Ingalls Hockey Arena, designed by Eero Saarinen (1958) and renovated by his successor firm Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo Associates (2008). We designed the current metal halide lighting system for that renovation project to double the rink lighting level while cutting lighting energy consumption in half. Now, Yale – recently a US collegiate national champion – seeks an even brighter level of illumination to satisfy TV broadcast needs. However, the Yale energy manager wants to ensure that we maintain or reduce Ingalls Rink’s current energy consumption. We are in the process of selecting the luminaire and control manufacturer that will be able to satisfy both goals. Not only will the new lighting be substantially brighter, we will be able to use its inherent dimmability to provide exceptionally uniform illuminance that is programmed to provide output matched to the activity and turn itself off when the rink is empty thereby saving energy otherwise wasted by the current metal halide lighting that cannot be readily turned on and off.

For Harvard University, we have been involved in the sustainable restoration of a series of residential halls, known as the River Houses, with Kieran Timberlake. For lighting, we have been encouraged to build a new vocabulary of luminaires to provide optimal lighting with minimal energy consumption. Not only has this contributed to exceptional energy performance and LEED credit accumulation, it has also given Harvard a testbed for continual evaluation and improvement of its lighting program. As the availability and cost-effectiveness of LED lighting has rapidly improved, Atelier Ten and Harvard have kept pace so that the lighting design for our most current River House project will be entirely LED. We are even considering the use of “tunable” white LED lighting which will enable students to control the relative warmth or coolness of their task lighting.

Can LED lighting save the planet? With good lighting design, we are certainly trying.