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Making light work

Stewart Simon, Managing Director of Coulter Office Interiors, makes the case for LEDs as the smart lighting choice for the modern workplace

A recent study by Harvard Business Review found that access to natural light was one of the biggest influencers on employee performance, wellbeing and happiness (see References, note 1). But what do you do if your office space can’t cater for this?

For the majority of businesses, installing more windows is simply not an option, while traditional lighting technologies have so far fallen short of the challenge. LEDs are a viable alternative, with advantages for both employer and employee.

The light-emitting diode (LED) dates back to the early 20th century, when it was used as an indicator on electrical devices such as TVs. Fast forward a few decades and they have become prominent, utilised across multiple functions and industries. LEDs are a fierce competitor in the domestic and commercial lighting market, challenging traditional technologies such as halogen and incandescent lamps. In the office environment, the benefits of LEDs are extensive, including cost savings, reduced carbon footprint and a happier, healthier workforce.

Versatile in nature, the LED can be used in an infinite number of lighting applications. Unlike the standard form of traditional lamps, LEDs can be combined and shaped in various ways to produce the desired illumination. This adaptability offers ample opportunity for innovation, with applications ranging from the classic desk lamp to modern mood lighting.

One of the most groundbreaking applications of LED technology is the creation of virtual sky panels, designed to replace conventional suspended office ceilings. The light-laced modules mimic the sky, producing a natural daylight effect that leads employees to feel they are working under the sky.

LEDs have superior colour capability, opening up a wide range of design possibilities. Unlike incandescent and halogen lamps, they are able to project a wide spectrum of ‘white light’. The soft tones of ‘warm white’ and the powerful impact of ‘cool white’ are the main colour temperatures available, but variations can be achieved to create a colour of choice. For those organisations looking to mimic daylight in the office, LEDs have a very high colour rendering index, meaning they reveal the actual colour of objects nearly as well as natural light.

LEDs are the most efficient lamps on the market, using up to 90 per cent less energy than incandescent sources while producing the same level of light. The reason behind this is technical, but essentially LEDs do not need to heat up to emit light, instead only requiring a small electrical current to operate. This makes them extremely durable compared to traditional technologies – they can last up to 30 years, depending on the type of fixture.

This long lifespan and low energy use makes LEDs economically attractive. They not only lead to lower running and maintenance bills, but they pay for themselves quickly. The payback period for an office newly kitted out with state-of-the-art LED lighting will typically be around three years.

A recent installation of LED panels for an organisation in Manchester led to a significant reduction in the overall number of fittings needed, while providing a greater spread of high-quality light. As a result, the company saved approximately £2,600 per year on energy consumption, with a payback period of 33 months.

Although the initial price tag of LEDs is higher than traditional lighting solutions, many providers give businesses the option to lease-purchase the equipment, which means they don’t need to front up the capital cost.

LEDs play a role in sustainability. According to data and analytics company Nielsen(2), 81 per cent of the world’s consumers feel strongly that organisations should help to improve the environment, highlighting how corporate sustainability has become crucial to commercial success. Subsequently, firms are increasingly incorporating eco-friendly practices into their internal and external operations – something which also contributes to workforce satisfaction and is attractive to new recruits, especially millennials.

LEDs are considered green technology, as their manufacture and use cause minimal damage to the environment. Unlike traditional lighting sources, LEDs do not contain hazardous chemicals, such as toxic mercury, which makes them eligible for recycling. In addition, their extended lifespan reduces waste and the environmental costs associated with production.

As mentioned above, the annual kW/hr consumption of an LED is much lower than that of traditional halogens and fluorescents, causing fewer greenhouse gases to be released into the atmosphere. In 2017 it was reported that use of LEDs reduced total CO2 emissions from lighting by an estimated 570 million tonnes(3).

Organisations are increasingly expected to provide a personalised environment for staff; the Harvard Business Review, for example, found that one-third of employees wish to control their overhead and desk lighting at work(4). With LED lights able to operate at virtually any percentage of their rated power (0-100 per cent), users can be given complete control over the brightness of their task lighting.

In addition, LEDs can be used to emit light in one direction as opposed to all around, making them ideal for applications such as task lighting and recessed downlights. Energy consumption is reduced because no light is wasted, and workplace lighting can be tailored more precisely to individual needs.

On top of cost savings and flexible design possibilities, LEDs are also a highly practical choice for organisations. By turning light into energy instead of heat, LEDs operate at a significantly lower temperature than other lamps. They are cool-to-touch, enabling lamps to be changed safely without the risk of burning. Low radiated heat also makes LEDs ideal for use in heat-sensitive areas, such as spaces displaying artwork, reducing the risk of damage or adverse effects.

Durable and reliable, LEDs are equally as effective in colder conditions. They are more robust than traditional light sources, able to resist temperature fluctuations, vibration and jostling, such as ceiling fan fixtures.

Finally, replacing ceiling-mounted fluorescent tubes with LED panels limits problems of dust. This is a common issue with fluorescent lights, which, due to their static electricity, collect and spread dust around the office and have to be cleaned or replaced every couple of years.

In summary, we believe LEDs are the future of commercial lighting. They provide long-term cost savings and are a safe, reliable and long-lasting option in a wide range of applications. The flexibility and quality of LED lighting contributes to employee performance, happiness and wellbeing. LEDs are environmentally friendly, helping to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Organisations switching to LEDs are not only benefiting their staff and their bottom line, they are meeting the expectations of an increasingly eco-conscious public.





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