Policymakers set eyes on next wave of EU lighting laws

Industry representatives are keen to stress the importance of lighting for the well-being of people in buildings – whether in the workplace, schools, hospitals, or elderly homes. [Thomas Hawk / Flickr]

This article is part of our special report Lighting.

Almost ten years after the European Union banned incandescent light bulbs, policymakers are turning their attention to less immediate aspects of lighting – ranging from productivity gains in the workplace and classrooms to human well-being and even emotional health.

When the EU decided to impose the ban in 2008, reactions in the industry ranged from pure anger to sheer panic among ill-informed consumers.

With hindsight, no-one is questioning the benefits of the ban anymore.

“I think it has been very successful,” says Peter Liese, a German Christian Democrat MEP who hosted an event on “Lighting and Well-Being in Buildings” in the European Parliament on Wednesday (11 October).

“The decision allows us to save as much energy as four nuclear power plants can produce,” Liese told EURACTIV in an interview, adding that “modern lighting is doing a lot to achieve our climate targets”.

“And now, we are looking at whether further eco-design measures are necessary to achieve deeper cuts,” Liese told participants at the event, organised with the support of trade groups LightingEurope and the International Association of Lighting Designers (IALD).

But for now, the European Commission is still undecided. Further eco-design rules related to lighting systems were explored in detail in a preparatory study carried out for the Commission’s energy directorate (DG Energy).

“We still haven’t made up our minds about what to do with Lot 37 of eco-design, which is related to lighting systems,” said an official from DG Energy who responded to questions at the Parliament event.

“In particular, we are missing information on the macroeconomic impact, which is quite relevant. So we are thinking about which message to bring at the consultation forum that will take place in December,” the official said.

Other speakers at the event were more bullish about the potential to further reduce energy consumption from lighting systems. The limits of eco-design improvements have “definitely” not been reached, said Pieter Liese, the German MEP. “Modern LED technology and even more innovative lighting systems can save much more energy,” he explained.

The ban on incandescent light bulbs was “the low hanging fruit”, added Kevan Shaw from IALD, who pointed to additional savings potential from the electrical circuits lying behind the light bulb.

“The biggest saving potential is in intelligent lighting,” Liese told EURACTIV.

Peter Liese MEP: ‘Intelligent lighting has biggest saving potential’

Almost ten years after the EU imposed a ban on incandescent light bulbs, German MEP Peter Liese says much more savings can be achieved with modern lighting technology. But he also cautions against the temptation to over-regulate.

Nobel Prize reveals effects of light on ‘biological clock’

But while energy savings are the most immediately apparent feature of lighting, other aspects are making their way into the thinking of policymakers.

The Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD), which was voted on in the Parliament’s industry committee (ITRE) the same day, for the first time underlined the importance of maintaining “healthy indoor climate conditions”, which also refers to natural and artificial lighting, Liese said.

Industry representatives are now keen to stress the importance of lighting for the well-being of people in buildings – whether in the workplace, schools, hospitals, or elderly homes.

“Saving energy has been and will remain a key objective for EU policymakers and industry stakeholders, but addressing lighting quality and well-being should be granted a similar importance,” LightingEurope and IALD said in a joint statement.

The physiologically complex but wide-ranging effects of light on the human body were uncovered on 2 October by scientists who won the Nobel Prize in medicine for isolating a gene that controls the normal daily biological rhythm in fruit flies.

“We now recognise that biological clocks function by the same principles in cells of other multicellular organisms, including humans,” the Nobel Assembly said on its website announcing this year’s laureates.

The ground-breaking research uncovered how “our inner clock adapts our physiology to the dramatically different phases of the day” and “regulates critical functions such as behaviour, hormone levels, sleep, body temperature and metabolism,” the Nobel Assembly added.

The Nobel Prize award came as a perfect shoe-in for industry representatives, who were quick to highlight the breakthrough discovery to stress the importance of artificial lighting for human well-being.

“This perfectly fits our message – biological rhythm is the basis for all body functions. And that has to be supported by light,” said Dieter Lang from German company LEDVANCE, who spoke on behalf of LightingEurope at the Parliament event.

“Today there is a discrepancy between natural and electric light with regard to intensity, colour and dynamics of light,” Lang told participants. “And this is getting worse,” he pointed out, citing EU figures according to which Europeans now spend 90% of their time indoors.

“So there is definitely a risk that this biological requirement is not given by artificial lighting,” Lang warned.

Human centric lighting?

The health risks linked to inappropriate lighting were underlined by the Nobel Assembly, which pointed to “indications that chronic misalignment between our lifestyle and the rhythm dictated by our inner timekeeper is associated with increased risk for various diseases.”

These include disorders related to sleep patterns, feeding behaviour, hormone release, blood pressure, and body temperature.

Based on these medical findings, industry representatives have now come up with the concept of Human Centric Lighting, which takes into account variables such as colour rendering, vertical and horizontal illuminance, uniformity, glare and colour temperature to improve the lighting conditions in places like schools, hospitals, homes, offices and factories.

Examples include tuneable LED luminaries and intelligent lighting systems which, together with dedicated lighting design, can simulate the appearance and effects of natural light in a building.

“Today the right lighting technology and design can take into account all the visual and non-visual effects of light to improve health, well-being and performance of human beings in the built environment”, LightingEurope claims.

The potential benefits to wider society are considerable, according to figures cited by the industry. “Healthy buildings” can boost productivity by up to 12% for office employees, and up to 18% for workers. Well-designed buildings can also improve student’s scores at school by 14%, and boost sales in retail stores by as much as 25%, according to Eco Design Consultants, an award-winning chartered architectural practice based in the UK.

The business gains of human centric lighting systems could also be handsome, according to industry figures, with Lang estimating the market in Europe at €1.4bn per year in 2020, under a “realistic scenario” assuming selective government support, joint industry initiatives and “considerable marketing investments”.

Commission cautious

But policymakers prefer keeping a hands-off approach, for the time being.

Paula Rey Garcia, an official at the Commission’s DG Energy who spoke at the Parliament event, underlined how lighting performance, comfort and wellbeing were now incorporated into the revised Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD).

“We are taking small steps in that direction,” Garcia said in response to a question from a Philips Lighting lobbyist who asked whether the EPBD could be renamed to better reflect well-being aspects.

Garcia stressed that the EPBD provided only a “minimum framework” and that member states were allowed “quite a lot of flexibility” on how to implement it. “We can’t go into much detail,” Garcia admitted, saying only that the Commission “may come up with a position” on lighting systems in December this year.

Buildings law gets preliminary stamp of approval from European Parliament

MEPs on Wednesday (11 October) backed a revision of the Energy Performance of Buildings Directive (EPBD) after a draft report managed to win broad support from across the political spectrum in a key Parliament committee.

Antonio Cammarota, an official at DG Employment, was equally cautious, saying the existing two EU directives on health and safety at the workplace were generally still fit for purpose. A recent communication on “safe and healthier work for all” could provide an opportunity to update the annexes of the two directives, which date back to 1989 and 1990, he said.

But the main objective will be to clarify some legal requirements related for example to “adequate lighting” at the workplace, he pointed out, saying there was “an implementation problem” with those provisions which are largely ignored by employers.

To its credit, the Commission may have reason to tread carefully. When the EU executive adopted the ban on incandescent light bulbs in 2009, it initially won plaudits for taking a bold move to protect the environment.

But the applause soon turned into boos and jeers. Consumer groups in Europe and the US vociferously campaigned against the new bulbs, arguing an inferior light quality and mercury components in fluorescent lamps, with potentially toxic effects on health and the environment.

“The Communication of the European Commission was not perfect,” admitted Peter Liese, the German MEP. “And maybe the incandescent light bulb ban should not have been the first measure under the Ecodesign Directive,” he told EURACTIV.

“But all in all, I think it has been very successful”.

Light goes out for incandescent bulbs

After more than a century lighting up the world, the switch will be flicked off across the EU for the final time on incandescent bulbs on Saturday as the phased ban on their sale is completed.