Case History: The Party Was Almost Over

Case History: The Party Was Almost Over 2017-01-07T18:34:48+00:00
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Case Histories

The Party Was Almost Over

Turn out the lights! That, in a nutshell, was the federal government’s guidance for lighting energy conservation during the “dark days” of the 1973-74 OPEC nations’ petroleum embargo and the “energy crisis” that followed in its wake. While avoiding energy waste certainly was a good idea, the “turn off the lights” approach cut all too much muscle with the fat.

In one celebrated case history, for example, two of every four fluorescent lamps installed in a Social Security Administration (SSA) data processing center were removed. While the 50 percent reduction in lighting energy consumption was applauded, the 28 percent productivity drop it reportedly caused was far too great a sacrifice.

Nonetheless, the incident proved extremely valuable. It was publicized extensively by the then-fledgling National Lighting Bureau, which pointed out that, for every energy dollar the SSA saved, it lost as many as 250 (or more) productivity dollars. Why? As the Bureau pointed out, lighting and worker productivity are inextricably linked and, as such, lighting has far more impact on the bottom line than can be calculated in terms of “energy dollars” alone.

The National Lighting Bureau was established in 1976, principally as the brainchild of the late Bob Besal of Lithonia Lighting. Besal and other Bureau founders created the organization to provide important information about commercial and industrial lighting to those required to make lighting system decisions without the benefit of extensive technical background. In trade magazine articles, news releases, and comprehensive guides, NLB delivered its message to millions of people.

The Bureau’s point: to be truly effective, a lighting system design needs to account for electric illumination’s impact on factors such as worker productivity, reject/error rates, retail sales, safety, security, downtime avoidance, absenteeism, and a variety of others, and the dollar value of each. As such, effective lighting energy management had to begin with one basic question suggested by 1972-73 Illuminating Engineering Society of North America (IESNA) Past-President Bob Dorsey of General Electric: Why do we need light here? Once that question was answered, management would be in a position to work with lighting professionals in designing the most effective system possible, and then applying technology to make that system as efficient as possible.

Among other important attributes of the Bureau’s “lighting energy management” approach was its ability to add extensive savings values to payback analyses. In other words, the desirability of an upgrade could be evaluated considering not only operating/maintenance cost savings, but also savings/benefits derived from enhanced productivity, fewer rejects, increased retail sales, etc.

The Bureau’s mission has not changed over the years. It still focuses on commercial, industrial, institutional and other managers who must make decisions about lighting systems without extensive technical knowledge. The techniques being used to get that message across have changed, however, and the need for delivering that message may be more important than ever.

One of the Bureau’s most significant communications techniques is rooted in NLB’s National Lighting Awards Program. Established in 1979, the Program’s purpose is to obtain case histories that underscore the bottom-line benefits of better lighting (not just those associated with operating maintenance cost savings). The results over the years have been extraordinary.

The Bureau has garnered case histories related to industry, education, commercial office space, multifamily residential communities, athletic facilities, and so on. These “real world” examples of the Bureau’s main point provided the “proof of the pudding” insofar as managers were concerned. NLB case histories showed that lighting system owners were achieving documented productivity gains (of 7.5 percent and more) accompanied by energy use reductions of 30 percent, 40 percent, 50 percent and more.

Widespread promotion of Bureau case histories helped changed the way America’s business community looked at lighting. At one time, because electric illumination was such a conspicuous user of energy, lighting was discussed almost totally in terms of energy use. Thanks to the NLB, that attitude has changed remarkably over the years, and few articles about lighting now appear without mention of its important relationships with productivity, safety, security, etc.

One of the Bureau’s newest communications approaches is probably one of the most significant of all. It began when the Bureau created the slogan High-Benefit Lighting® to epitomize its message. In other words, to achieve High-Benefit Lighting, one needs to take the Bureau approach; i.e., first design the lighting to support the functions being performed in the affected space (indoors or out), and then make that lighting as energy-efficient as possible.

The High-Benefit Lighting theme has been incorporated into the Bureau’s logo, and the Bureau has initiated an outreach effort to its sponsors, encouraging them to gain justified recognition for their support of an organization that has done a truly remarkable job. These sponsors include manufacturers, trade associations (and, derivatively, their members), and agencies of the federal government.

Manufacturers in particular are being encouraged to use the High-Benefit Lighting logo on packaging materials and tags and to make explanations of High-Benefit Lighting and notice of their support available through brochures or other means. “Advertorials” in major user-oriented publications also are being formulated, with the overriding thought that, by having our sponsors take advantage of the positive NLB image, we will be able to reach far many more decision-makers to explain why, as important as saving energy may be, saving energy in and of itself should not be the goal. Instead, overall bottom-line savings should be the objective, with making a highly effective High-Benefit Lighting system as energy efficient as possible one of the parameters.

Sponsorship of the National Lighting Bureau is limited to organizations with a significant interest in lighting and, typically, is by invitation only. The new outreach program the NLB has in mind will probably encourage more requests for invitations because, for the first time, the Bureau will be able to give its sponsors a genuine marketing advantage in return for their unselfish support.

In truth, however, the marketing advantage possibly will be one of the most effective educational tools the Bureau has ever developed and, let it be noted, one the sponsors did not ask for. They have, over the years, given their support simply because they have seen that the Bureau’s public education efforts have worked. The Bureau was created to fill a need that existed in 1976 and still exists today.

You may be in a position to help the Bureau on an individual basis if you have a case history that’s worth talking about. If you have been involved in a new lighting installation or system upgrade that has achieved measurable improvements in productivity, reject-rate reduction, safety, security, downtime avoidance, insurance cost savings, absenteeism reductions, etc., then, by all means, get in touch with the Bureau Communications Director John Bachner at the NLB Communications Office, 8811 Colesville Road, Suite G106, Silver Spring, MD 20910; tel: (301)587-9572; fax: (301)589-2017; or e-mail

If you want to be considered as a potential sponsor of the Bureau, please get in touch with me (770) 922-9000 or Bureau Executive Director Kyle Pitsor (703) 841-3274. Do note, however, that the Bureau insists on even-handed approaches in its promotional activities. No one lighting system component is emphasized to the detriment of any other (this include maintenance), nor are manufacturers’ names used. We look forward to expanding our sponsorship list. It will help us to do an even better job for those involved in lighting, and those who depend on lighting to accomplish their work.

–Contributed by Richard V. Morse, Chairman, National Lighting Bureau

Reprinted with permission from IESNA. Taken from LD+A, February 1998, “The Party Was Almost Over”.