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Lighting and Sustainability

I was recently asked to speak about sustainability and how it impacts lighting. I have to admit, this is a tough one. There are a lot of elements under the sustainability umbrella; only a handful relate to lighting.

Much effort has occurred over the last fifteen years centered on the reduction of energy consumed for illumination. Lighting, specifically designed to respect the “Dark Skies” (light pollution) and sea turtle habituate is now readily available. Pendants constructed of old, recycled wine bottles are available. (Desire for them is another thing.) Digging deeper into sustainability will require an almost complete rethinking of how we light our homes, in much the same way that commercial buildings are embracing daylight harvesting, site placement and advanced fenestration design.

In a recent post, I suggested the reduction of decorative lighting would be an inevitable aspect of the future of lighting. Sustainability is the main reason. Lighting as we see it now is a fashion business. Like necktie widths and hem lengths, lighting goes in and out of style. With long-lasting LED, the twelve year aesthetic cycle is anathema to lighting that could be functionally viable for thirty. This fissure can only be overcome with good lighting design and application that promote the appearance of light, not the look and form of the luminaire.

Another aspect of sustainability we have heretofore ignored will be reuse. Tossing a dated chandelier in the garbage is pretty common. Creative people will need to come up with adaptive reuse as we enter the sustainability era.

My wife and I took on our first rehab project when we moved into our second home in 1990. It was a great 1917 colonial with much of the original lighting still in-place. Despite an update on the entire living room, we kept the slightly gauche ceiling light in place. It was just too, “too” to remove!

When we redid the dining room, we wanted a chandelier over the table. The room was already equipped with a ceiling flush-mounted, gold plaster starburst with five light bulbs jutting out at a 45° angle. We simply could not remove it, so I turned the piece into an exaggerated, lighted ceiling canopy. I wired it into the chandelier and it remained proudly on the ceiling until we sold the house.

My circa 1990 dining room sketch with the original ceiling flush light serving as a canopy for the modern linear chandelier.

To the obvious benefit of Salvation Army and Goodwill stores everywhere, spray painting old Spanish Bronze and Faux Williamsburg chandeliers manufactured in the 1970’s has been a popular way to light kitschy boutiques and cutting-edge restaurants for years. Like all trends, that too will end and we will be left with hard sustainability decisions. With more lighting hidden in the structure and fewer decorative pieces, future generations will be left with usable lighting AND a more receptive planet.

Before creating your next room design, give a moment of thought to sustainability. Is there possible adaptive reuse of existing lighting? Would the room be better served with creatively applied utilitarian lighting that will last through the next two redesigns? Considering a sconce made of recycled 2-liter Mountain Dew bottles, might, however be a bridge too far.

2 replies on “Lighting and Sustainability”

Nice discussion. As more of the architectural and structural materials can themselves function as luminous surfaces it will be interesting to see. However I still believe there’s a whimsical side to decorative lighting at the homeowners level and as long as we identify a trend in style or color lighting will be part and parcel


Agreed. My point is a reduction in decorative pieces. If we look back 20 years, we now have fewer decorative pieces in a home, which was less that 30 years ago and that was less than 40 years. Little by little, category by category, few will be used. Thanks for the comment!


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