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The cost of good lighting? It’s nothing compared to the cost of bad lighting

Article09Lighting is often seen as an easy place to cut costs and save money on office fit-out and refurbishment projects, but substandard solutions have a hidden ongoing cost to any employer. Here's how to make sure the lighting you provide brings value in the long term.

Partly because of this higher initial price hurdle, some sellers have focused on promoting the energy-saving potential of LED lighting at the expense of quality. But this has come at the same time as a revolution in the science of how light affects the body, which has produced more evidence than ever before that quality of light in the workplace is crucial for keeping employees healthy and productive. This presents a challenge for lighting professionals because, while the cost of lighting is easy enough to quantify in euros or pounds, it’s tricky to put a number on the value of good lighting for businesses. Tricky – but not impossible. To understand the value of good lighting, we first need to understand the cost of people to a business. According to research in the US and the UK, staffing accounts for more than half of a business’s total costs, and around 90% of the cost of running an office, eclipsing the cost of buildings and maintenance. With this in mind, the cost of lighting – whether upfront or over time – seems relatively trivial. Let’s say that better lighting could make your staff 1% more productive, take 1% less time off sick, or make 1% fewer mistakes. Then the extra investment would easily have paid for itself.

And the evidence is mounting that lighting could easily have those effects.

In a recent study, researchers in the Netherlands placed two groups of office workers under different light conditions for an hour to see what happened – one group under dim lights, one under bright lights. Results showed that light levels affected how alert people felt, their level of attention, and their heart rate. Participants felt less sleepy and more energetic under brighter lights, and had quicker reaction times.


People who like their lights, like their jobs. A study in the United States found that people who said their office lighting was high quality were more comfortable, more satisfied and felt better at work. Other surveys have shown that people who feel disengaged at work are much more likely to say they dislike their lighting.

People are less productive when working under light they don’t like. A 2009 survey of office design at banking organisations in Pakistan found a strong correlation between how employees rated their lighting conditions and their productivity at work. And the evidence is mounting that lighting could easily have those effects.

A 1998 survey of six UK offices found a strong link between perceptions of office conditions, including lighting, and work-related illness. Dim lighting and a lack of control over lights have even been implicated as possible causes of so-called sick building syndrome.