David Ribbons, director of sales Europe and Africa at Lutron Electronics, explores why lighting control offers a strategic solution to improving sustainability in office buildings
With global climate change at the top of the political agenda, it is no surprise that the commercial sector is under pressure to minimise its environmental impact. There is increasing pressure on both building owners and the construction industry to seek ways to ensure that new and existing commercial buildings are more sustainable.
One imperative is legally binding targets that have been set for governments to cut greenhouse gas emissions. To meet its targets, the UK needs to cut these emissions by at least 80% from 1990 levels by 2050. With 18% of the UK’s carbon emissions coming from non-domestic buildings, the incentive for commercial building owners and constructors to consider how technology can help achieve that is strong.
In addition, there is EU-led legislation such as the Energy Performance Certificates required for buildings across the European Union. EPCs, which rate a building’s energy efficiency on a sliding scale from A to G, are required when any building is sold, rented or constructed. In fact, EPCs are currently one of the most important sources of information on the energy performance of EU’s building stock.
However what are the incentives for building occupants that are not necessarily owners? And what role can lighting control play in realising the green vision?
Leverage lighting control to deliver the green vision in the workplace
Increasing a building’s sustainability is a project encompassing integrated design, build process, management and operation. All of these elements play a role in making a building more ‘green’. One of the simpler ways of achieving this is by taking a closer look at lighting. Both electrical and natural light can be managed through lighting control systems. These optimise the building’s energy use, as well as positively affect occupants’ wellbeing, health and productivity.
Save money long-term by reducing energy costs
Efficient use of electrical and natural light can bring companies significant cost savings in the long term. The initial investment in technology will look small when you consider that lighting accounts for almost 40% of annual electricity use in commercial buildings. This leads to fast and considerable return on investment for companies implementing sustainable solutions in this area.
Lighting control systems encompassing technologies like dimmers, occupancy/vacancy sensors, shading solutions and more can help make sure that light is used in the most efficient way possible, reducing operating costs over the life of the installation. For example, lights in company restrooms or hospital corridors and staircases don’t need to be illuminated at 100% all the time, and by using precise sensor technology this can be easily managed. Similarly, daylight can be controlled to suit the occupants’ needs by installing blinds that allow the right amount of light at any given time, also influencing the room temperature. It is estimated that lighting control systems can lead to an average reduction in energy use of around 60%.
As well as costs saved on lower electricity bills, companies may also benefit from environmental tax relief or energy rebates, as well as additional incentives from their utility suppliers. These will depend on the particular offering of each utility company, but it’s an increasingly common practice to reward companies that have implemented eco-friendly solutions.
Increase occupants’ wellbeing and productivity
The energy saving benefits mentioned above are the first that come to mind when discussing sustainability. However, the not so obvious ‘softer’ benefits that sustainable solutions bring to occupants shouldn’t be overlooked either. According to research by the World Green Business Council, 90 per cent of business' operating costs are associated with staff costs. Enriching the quality of the occupants’ environment – be it an office, hotel room or classroom – leads to an increase in productivity and general wellbeing. It is reported that the ability to control the working environment, for example by adjusting light levels to specific needs, is an important factor in increasing employee satisfaction and performance. For example, using automated or manual shading solutions is invaluable in improving the quality of lighting and eliminating the tiring glare effect during sunny days.
In addition, greener buildings have the potential to be healthier too and investments in this area could lower the number of sick days taken each year. This in turn will lead not only to financial benefits for companies, but also for the economy as a whole, impacting areas such as the public health sector. With a significant amount of time now spent indoors, it is important to make the work environment as comfortable and healthy as possible.
The potential of retrofitting
The true potential of increasing building sustainability from our perspective is in retrofitting. Despite no shortage of new construction sites, in the UK alone about 87 per cent of buildings we see today will still exist in 2050, forming 70% of building stock by then. With a number of older commercial buildings still being highly energy intensive, renovating them with a green focus in mind should be top of mind for property contractors, which need to comply with increasingly demanding sustainable standards and market expectations.
Retrofitting requires that any renovations don’t involve changes to the existing wiring structure within the building, meaning that they rely on wireless solutions. This leads to simple and fast installation with no need to drill into dry walls or heavily reconstruct parts of the building. As a result, such solutions are easy to expand as needed, with additional modules added or moved should there be a change in space set-up. This positively affects the total cost of a retrofit project. A great example of a sustainable lighting retrofit project is New York’s Empire State Building, which is expected to result in total lighting energy savings of 65 per cent.
Building owners, designers and specifiers need to work together to take the next steps on the path to more sustainable commercial buildings. The incentives are there from environmental and legal, through to economic and social. With the right technology partners, achieving these ambitious goals is within our reach. On the other hand, failure to include sustainable parameters when building new, or retrofitting existing buildings, can lock us into disadvantages of poor performing buildings for decades. A few simple changes now could reap huge rewards in the years to come.
 World Green Building Council, Health, Wellbeing & Productivity in Offices