Could light be a criterion by which offices are certified?

24 Apr 2019

There are many criteria that office buildings need to meet in order to be able to host so many employees. And understandably so. Health and safety, of course, is the first that comes to mind. Within that rather robust section, there is access to fire escapes and extinguishers, the air quality, and number of lavatories according to the volume of people set to be inside the space. But rarely, if ever, does light come into a specific benchmark that needs to be met when it comes to certifying office buildings.

Sure, some level of light – such a ceiling lighting – is necessary and required. But what we’re talking about here is the quality of this light. There’re no light regulators sent to office blocks to test the quality of the light during the day as there would be for measuring the air quality and if the ventilation system is properly intact. Why is that?

Generally speaking, up until only a few decades ago, scientists in the realm of circadian rhythms and chronobiology were convinced that we had evolved away from our physical reliance on light beyond seeing. And lighting up a room or our surroundings was only a matter of practicality. But as research in the field advanced and our growing population of office workers began suffering from sleep deprivation and a lack of energy, a deep look at light’s effects on our health and well-being began gaining traction.

Do you sit in a windowless room? Perhaps you have glass windows all around you but you are too far away from them? Maybe you think your workplace surrounding has light that is too bright and is making you feel headachy, fatigued or too wired? What about dark and cosy workspaces — do they make you feel tired?

In fact, we wouldn’t put it past you if all of the above were true to some extent. They are for a vast chunk of people who work inside office spaces. Energy saving lighting solutions make for a multibillion-pound industry, and IoT solutions are being pushed by governments – but the reasons for this, while important, are inspired by green energy and lowering emissions. They are not about human well-being.

In that light (no pun intended), would it not make sense to introduce a new criterion to the health check of buildings set to host hundreds if not thousands of employees? Imagine if the quality of light in around your desk space was certified to the optimum level set to spark your circadian rhythms and give you an energy boost when you need it most. In the same breath, communal eating areas should differ in light to meeting rooms, quiet study sections and well-being rooms areas such as meditation and exercise spaces.

Making sure employers comply with a certain blueprint of light quality – that is not only meeting the benchmarks for low-emission but also for human health – really seems like the next logical step forward. The impact of not receiving the right type of light at the correct time of the day should be taken as seriously as polluted indoor air, or lack of fire safety measures. What will it take to start implementing this shift?