Lighting Design in Sustainable Buildings
April 01, 2004

By Staff
Appeared in The Construction Specifier

Another element that can add to a building’s sustainability is the use of green products. A small number of manufacturers who are sensitive to the importance of the materials and processes employed in making their products have begun to promote the use of recycled materials and care in making their chemical or manufacturing processes environmentally friendly.

Some even go so far as to use shipping methods that reduce the amount of packing material. Furthermore, manufacturers are also beginning to consider the disposal and/or recycling aspects of their products after they have lived out their lives.

LEED® Certification
An owner who has constructed a sustainable building is eligible for certification by the U. S. Green Building Council under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) ranking system, which rates structures on the basis of established energy and environmental principles. Winning LEED® accreditation reflects an environmentally sound standpoint on the part of the owner.

Integrating sustainable lighting design into a building will help it achieve LEED® certification, which takes into account such criteria as minimizing energy consumption, incorporating daylight into the interior lighting solution, and minimizing stray light to the exterior and “sky glow” from the building’s outside lighting, as well as using green products. LEED® criteria are tied in with government regulations (again, these should be specified after having been mentioned at the beginning) and are generally more stringent than state and local energy codes.

Lighting design must conform to LEED® specifications by ensuring that the wattage per square foot works within the overall building model and by modeling the space to illustrate how daylight enters the interior, how much is being captured and how much can be used. At the same time, the use of daylight for illumination must not lead to an increase in energy consumption due to a greater need for air conditioning.

With today’s emphasis on green design, all elements of a building must be carefully specified in order for a project to maximize its potential. The role of lighting in the process underscores even more strongly why it is crucial for the lighting designer to join early in the coordinated team effort to design a successful sustainable building environment.

Furthermore, owners should consider minimizing or redirecting exterior lighting. The uplighting that creates a dramatic glow around a building at night is both expensive and a waste of light. The uplighting primarily provides emphasis on the architectural features and only provides minimal illumination for pedestrians and security concerns. It results not only in excess energy consumption, but also in negative impacts on the surrounding environment.

The LEED®’s movement and the “Darkskies” movement are working towards reducing “light trespass” and light pollution in designated areas of classification throughout the country. The proposal provides four zones that include urban, suburban, rural, and natural. Each zone would be permitted varied levels of “light trespass” at designated times. Unfortunately, this movement will have a negative impact on the appearance and presence of major metropolitan architecture.


Mary Ann Hay is a Principal & Director of Architectural Lighting Design in the New York City office of Syska Hennessy Group, a consulting, engineering, technology and construction firm that provides technical solutions in such areas as building system design, facilities management, energy management, technology consulting/engineering, and turnkey design/build services.