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How to prove your building needs healthier, more productive lighting

Eat your vegetables, get plenty of exercise, and light your office properly: Various academic studies have shown a connection between lighting, health and productivity. Now, a new data collection kit can help individual companies prove the link on their own premises.

The quality of office lighting has a huge impact on workers’ well being and productivity, yet companies do little about it – in large measure because they lack empirical evidence from within their own four walls that would support a business case to make improvements.

So says the World Green Building Council, which is now offering a strategic weapon that champions of healthy buildings can use in their fight to obtain a budget. It has devised a ‘toolkit’ that collects data from the physical, perceptual and financial realms which when combined could make a hands-down case for overhauling the lighting and all those other things like heating and cooling and architectural design that can dial up or down the attitudes and output of workers.

‘Many organisations are sitting on a treasure trove of information that, with a little sifting, could yield important immediate improvement strategies for their two biggest assets – their people and places, and the relationship between the two,’ says John Alker, director of policy and communications of the UK Green Building Council, the British contingent of the international charity. He posts a blog on The Guardian‘s Sustainable Business blog in which he elaborates:

‘Much financial data that businesses are already collecting – absence rates, medical complaints and costs, staff turnover and even revenue – could be collected more systematically, and assessed in relation to place. Does this data vary between, or even within, offices? This would be a low-cost and easy way for organisations to begin to analyse quite familiar statistics, but through a new lens.

‘These objective “outcome” metrics should then be accompanied by information about underlying attitudes that can be harder to quantify but important to understand. An effective perception study that tests a range of self-reported attitudes about health, wellbeing and productivity in the workplace can create a more rounded picture.

‘Finally, and crucially, comes information about the building itself, and how it is performing. Some of these are very direct measures (lighting, temperature, air quality) and others will be evaluations or assessments (quality of views, local amenities). Some can be done in house, some require more expert support – although this is changing as technology puts power in the hands of occupiers themselves.’

More and more general studies are demonstrating the link between lighting and health and productivity. Recent research at the University of Illinois, for instance, showed that employees who work near windows and natural daylight are better rested and sleep on average 46 minutes longer at night than colleagues who toil under artificial lights 

Likewise, a Cornell University study found that among nurses, those that work near windows laugh more.

Throw in the studies showing that exposure to blue light – the type emitted by our omnipresent computer, gadget and TV screens – undermines sleep, and it seems as though ‘lighting’ should be on our health agenda as much as eating vegetables and getting exercise.

Speaking at a Copenhagen gathering sponsored by the EU’s Lighting For People last month, professor Reine Karlsson of Lund University urged public funding to alter lighting schemes in offices, schools and hospitals in a manner that would improve individuals’ wellbeing and achievement.

Perhaps the Green Building Council’s new toolkit can help make a case-by-case difference.

Photo is from Hacobhob via Shutterstock