Picture of health: A boost for wellness lighting from the Urban Land Institute?

According to The Urban Land Institute the UK can expect a boom in architectural and fit-out projects that wish to embrace health and wellbeing strategies as core features of the working environment. A new report, ‘Picture of health’, published in July by ULI and produced by the ULI UK Sustainability Forum suggests that there could be a major shift in the direction of higher investment in ‘wellness’.  86% of respondents to a survey expect ‘some’ or ‘substantial’ increases in wellness design, and probably to be driven by building tenants rather than building owners.

Picture of Health by ULI

Drilling-down into the report we can see that ‘health and wellbeing’ is already having a serious impact on Design and that situation is expected to grow in the next three to five years . . . and that presents the UK lighting sector with a bit of a quandary.

The report claims that the most popular changes in building services are around acoustics and lighting; ‘specifically, the use of circadian lighting or putting lighting control in the hands of users’, with measures such as biophilic design interventions also being mentioned. This kind of response from the marketplace should act as a great encouragement for those manufacturers and design houses who have focused on lighting for health and wellness in general – and circadian lighting, in particular.

That would be good, except that the organisation in the UK to whom we all turn when we’re looking for design guidance, the Society of Light and Lighting, has only recently produced its Position Statement on Circadian Lighting. As I think we’re all now aware, the SLL Position is that more research is needed because there is no hard evidence to indicate what a successful circadian lighting installation looks like. The SLL says: ‘It is essential for the lighting industry to recognise the current limitations in our knowledge of the implications of introducing circadian lighting. Under no circumstances should commercial sales be prioritised, when there is a lack of factual or proven evidence for the claims being made’.

That puts the lighting design community in something of a bind. Our professional Society is saying ’don’t go there’, while a real estate investment report is laying it on the line that there is a developing demand among our client base for exactly that thing.

So – let’s agree that we don’t have the supporting metrics that can ‘prove’ a bio-dynamic lighting scheme (so don’t tell your PI brokers), but unless we take a dynamic, and responsible, attitude to this situation, it will be exactly those ‘commercial’ influences, the ones that the SLL is trying hard to isolate, who will take the initiative and gain a short-term financial benefit, while potentially creating long-term reputational harm to the lighting for health and wellness sector as a (non-functioning) dose of snake oil .

Rather, the broader lighting design community needs to set out its stall, acknowledging the lack of hard evidence on the effect of circadian lighting, while heartily promoting the holistic benefits of lighting for ‘wellness’ – with the aim of developing a design approach to a visual environment that goes far broader, and deeper, than the mechanistic approach offered by ‘circadian’ lighting.

Ed. Note: The Light Review has published a proposal for advancing the approach to lighting for health and wellness; ‘Circadian lighting? – you’re asking the wrong question’. It’s offered in the spirit of discussion and heated debate and I hope to hear from anyone and everyone who has an opinion to express on this topic – a topic that will run and run.

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