Making Human-Centric Lighting Usable, for a More Productive Workplace

  • By Steve Stark, Sales Director Trade UK & Ireland, LEDVANCE

Although today’s LED lighting has been adopted primarily for environmental reasons, the new technology also brings unprecedented user controllability that creates opportunities to utilize lighting for extra benefits such as enhanced productivity, performance, and wellbeing in the workplace.

Human-Centric Lighting
Traditional electric lighting has typically allowed dimming but provided few – if any – other practicable options to adjust the light to suit users’ needs. Now, with simple electronic or software control and the right combination of emitter types, an LED light engine can manage the spectral content with great precision to produce almost any colour or adjust “white” light throughout a range of correlated colour temperatures (CCT) expressing ambiences from warm, to cool, to daylight white. At any desired dimming ratio.

Arising from this new-found flexibility, concepts such as colour quality, mood lighting, and human-centric lighting have gained traction. Each offers an approach to creating a more comfortable, compelling environment for various activities such as working, studying, driving, shopping, and socialising or relaxing with family or friends.

Let’s take a look at human-centric lighting, which recognizes that the effects of light on the human being extend beyond mere illumination.

Humans have evolved from a time when natural light from the sun dominated the daily routine. Human circadian rhythms – the 24-hour body clock that governs natural cycles of activity and rest by managing hormone levels – are known to be heavily influenced by variations in natural light throughout the course of the day. Natural light levels are low in the early morning, with low CCT, rising to much higher levels during the day when human activity is at its peak, and then returning to low light levels and low CCT during the evening before night-time brings conditions for sleeping: very low light levels and medium CCT.

The advent of artificial light – and electric lighting in particular – has appeared to deliver freedom from these primal constraints. It has been effective, up to a point, as new opportunities have been created to enjoy nightlife, maintain 24-hour services, increase productivity, and even offset the natural aging of human visual receptors to allow people to remain active and live independently for longer.

On the other hand, there can be negative effects. Isolation from the rich and continuously varying characteristics of natural daylight – replaced by prolonged exposure to uniform, unchanging artificial light, containing only a small subset of the natural spectral content – can cause unwanted effects such as extreme fatigue and depression.

Fortunately, the easy controllability of LED lighting now makes it possible to replicate and even idealize the characteristics of natural light, to better support human circadian rhythms. This should allow workers to be happier, healthier, and more productive. It is worth noting that human-centric lighting requires higher levels of illuminance than standard LED lighting, as well as increased spectral content at blue wavelengths, to achieve the desired biological effects. Experts believe the gains in productivity will outweigh the costs of increased energy consumption.

Enhancing the Workplace
Although unlikely to stimulate super-human performance, human-centric lighting could certainly help workers perform at their best for longer during the day and be better prepared for the restoration of body and mind caused by the change in hormone secretion towards the end of the day. The main advantages, therefore, are to enhance wellbeing and motivation, maximize performance and assist concentration, and promote vitality and creativity.

With everything that is currently known, there is clearly an opportunity to significantly improve the working environment. Of course, in the business context, results are needed to demonstrate that the investment has delivered a return. How can ordinary business owners turn scientific reasoning into deterministic practices that deliver measurable results?
Without convenient usability, human centric lighting could receive scant attention from end users who do not understand how to choose from a large selection of optional settings and adjustments. The beneficial effects of human-centric lighting can be subtle, and often only appreciated by analysing long-term trends and data. Hence, if the lighting system is at first difficult to understand or use, or trying out basic settings has little apparent effect, there is a risk that business users will dismiss the idea.

Beating the Usability Barrier
To overcome the potential for misunderstanding and rejection, LEDVANCE has designed its HCL Controller to automatically adjust the intensity and spectral content throughout the day in keeping with current knowledge about human responses to natural lighting.

The controller is easy to install, with automated self-configuration, and is designed to apply correct circadian timing to let users begin applying human-centric lighting without any prior knowledge. A simple rotary switch and display allows advanced users to optimise the lighting for individual needs or specific situations. Wirelessly connected luminaires such as LEDVANCE‘s 3600lm HCL Panel and 540lm HCL Spotlight convert the settings into optimised light that complements the effects of natural light throughout the working day.

Understanding that human-centric lighting works with the body’s natural patterns of rest and activity, it makes sense that the lighting itself should present an intuitive user interface and enhance – rather than dominate or replace – natural light. Technology that enshrines this logic could revolutionize our expectations for human performance.