The first LED lights were developed in 1962 and started being installed by the mid-2000s to the benefit of commercial and industrial businesses. One of the most cost-effective energy efficiency upgrades available to facilities, LED lighting has a longer lifespan and higher lumen output than its predecessors: incandescent, fluorescent and H.I.D. Although thousands of companies have implemented LED lighting solutions over the last 20 years, we still walk into building after building wasting energy and overall capital spend on old, inefficient lighting. While its lifespan and energy use are clear gains to installing LED lighting, one benefit still being researched today is the relationship between LED lighting and productivity.
Current research about lighting and productivity
In February 2018, the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, MA produced a working paper titled “The Light and the Heat: Productivity Co-Benefits of Energy Saving Technology.” This exploratory piece was developed to examine the adoption of LED lighting in garment factories around Bangalore, India.
Specifically, this paper looks at how LED lighting might increase productivity by producing less heat. The authors explain that “Heat emissions for LEDs are substantially lower than fluorescent bulbs: the average LED bulb emits 3.4 Btus, as compared to 23.8 Btus for the fluorescent lighting”[i]. While the study is far more complex than this summary, the results determined that LEDs eliminated about 85% of the negative impact of higher temperatures on worker efficiency in the garment factories while working on “relatively hot days,” determined by their own climate calculations. It’s a simple but a powerful, additional benefit to LEDs: by not producing as much heat as previous lamps, these fixtures help improve worker efficiency.
Another study, published by Science Direct in December, 2018 closed with the statement: “an improvement in the quality of interior lighting has a direct benefit to increasing productivity and alertness in students and teachers in addition to having significant implications in the energy efficiency of educational buildings.”[ii] The article overall was interested in students’ subjective opinions on fluorescent versus LED lighting, so this conclusion was in response to an increased evolution in students’ positive opinion on LED over time. However, the study did not explain why LED lighting might improve productivity, besides the implied connection between student approval to lighting and work produced in the classroom.
There are a couple of reasons for increased productivity due to lighting besides lower heat output, including varying lighting color temperatures and aligning with circadian rhythms. A blog published by the MBA program at UNC explains how both of these lighting elements can increase productivity. The article states that “working under ‘blue-enriched’ light bulbs that are [7,000K] actually increases work performance by supporting mental acuity, vitality and alertness while reducing fatigue and daytime sleepiness.”[iii] Adding controls to fixtures and selecting LED lighting that can change color temperature will allow facility managers to exactly tailor light levels to each space: conference rooms, individual offices, manufacturing floors, operating rooms and more can each get the right type, light level, color and automation needed for the task at hand.
Anecdotal research: examples of how LED lighting improves productivity for manufacturing facilities
We don’t have a scientific study of our work in improving lighting for manufacturing facilities, but it’s these projects, in particular, that generate anecdotal responses from our clients about how lighting is improving operations. Most of the manufacturing facilities we tackle are dim and poorly lit, relying on fluorescent lighting which needs constant maintenance due to shorter lifespan and therefore aren’t always replaced when needed due to inaccessibility. Whether it’s due to the fixtures, configuration, lack of controls and automation, poor settings or all the above, these facilities are prime candidates for a LED lighting retrofit. With the upgrade, they save annual costs, maintenance costs and improve facility operations – and with lighting directly impacting sight on a manufacturing floor, these facilities typically see improved employee response as well. Recently, both a medical device manufacturer and a chocolate manufacturer have given us the same feedback.
Improved production isn’t usually the catalyst for installing LED lighting. Reasons for efficiency, lowered energy use and a project ROI are more often drivers for lighting efficiency projects. However, improved productivity should continue to be studied as the effects of LED lighting are monitored over time. If workers ultimately benefit from better lighting that delivers less strain on the eyes, lowers heat and improves visibility, LED lighting is the clear choice for your next facility project.
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[i] Adhvaryu, Achyuta, Namrata Kala and Anant Nyshadham. “The Light and the Heat: Productivity Co-benefits of Energy-saving Technology.” NBER Working Paper No. 24314. Cambridge: National Bureau of Economic Research, 2018. https://www.nber.org/papers/w24314. Page 7.
[ii] Castilla, Nuria, Carmen Llinares, Fabio Bisegna, Vicente Blanca-Giménez. “Emotional evaluation of lighting in university classrooms: A preliminary study.” Frontiers of Architectural Research. 7, no. 4 (2018): 600-609. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.foar.2018.07.002. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2095263518300414.
[iii] MBA@UNC Staff, “How Lighting Affects the Productivity of Your Workers,” MBA@UNC (blog), September 11, 2017, https://onlinemba.unc.edu/blog/how-lighting-affects-productivity/.