Turn Out the Lights at Noon for Daylight Hour

Daylight Hour will be on June 22, 2020, from noon until 1pm local time.

turn out the lights at Daylight Hour
That's starting at noon.

 Building Energy Exchange

Remember Earth Hour? Ten years ago it was a big deal in much of the world, with people turning off their lights on the Saturday night closest to the Spring Equinox. It never really saved much energy, and since LEDs became common was probably counterproductive (an 800 lumen LED bulb emits the same light as 63 candles and a lot less pollution); it was more about generating awareness than actually saving energy.

One could say the same thing about Daylight Hour, created by New York's Building Energy Exchange, an organization with "a mission to save energy."

Daylight Hour is an annual social media campaign organized by the Building Energy Exchange to raise awareness about using natural daylight in lieu of electric lighting. Launched in 2014, this simple and engaging campaign asks offices to turn off non-critical lights in day-lit spaces from noon until 1 pm on the Friday nearest the summer solstice. 

Except this year is different in so many ways; it was moved to Monday so that it doesn't conflict with Juneteenth (a dance we hope they will do every time the dates overlap). And of course, most people are not working from the office these days. But it is still worth doing, and thinking about for a number of reasons that go way beyond just saving energy.

Every Worker Should Have Access to Natural Light

office building in Germany with windows
Nobody is far from a window in this building. Lloyd Alter

This government office building in Berlin looks different from what you see in North America; it's really a bunch of skinny office buildings tied together. That's because the German building codes require that every employee must have a view of the sky, and are rarely more than 20 feet from a window. It's more expensive to build this way, but there is a real payback; a study by Alan Hedge, a professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell, found that workers in daylit office environments reported an 84 percent drop in symptoms of eyestrain, headaches and blurred vision.

"The study found that optimizing the amount of natural light in an office significantly improves health and wellness among workers, leading to gains in productivity," said Hedge. "As companies increasingly look to empower their employees to work better and be healthier, it is clear that placing them in office spaces with optimal natural light should be one of their first considerations."

He put a number on it: "Workers sitting close to a window that optimized daylight exposure reported a 2 percent increase in productivity – the equivalent of an additional $100,000/year of value for every 100 workers or around $2m over the window's lifetime."

A study by the HR firm Future Workplace found that employees want natural light more than just about anything else. As reported in the Harvard Business Review:

In a research poll of 1,614 North American employees, we found that access to natural light and views of the outdoors are the number one attribute of the workplace environment, outranking stalwarts like onsite cafeterias, fitness centers, and premium perks including on-site childcare.

Daylight is a Drug and Nature is the Dispensing Physician

Effects of circadian rhythms
The light affects how you feel. Nobel Committee

Natural light changes color through the day, from red in the morning through blue at noon, and back to red in the evening; the longer it travels through the atmosphere, the less of the short blue wavelength gets through. Our bodies have an internal clock that is tuned to these changes in light – the circadian rhythm. As they note in the Well Building Standard: "Light is one of the main drivers of the circadian system, which starts in the brain and regulates physiological rhythms throughout the body’s tissues and organs, affecting hormone levels and the sleep-wake cycle."

The Well Standard goes all high-tech with fancy LED systems that adjust throughout the day, but really, there is a better way: the window. As lighting designer Debra Burnet says: “Daylight is a drug and nature is the dispensing physician.” 

Nature Calls

the view from my desk
The view as I write this post. Lloyd Alter 

Another benefit of windows is that besides letting light in, they let you see out, exposing views of trees, plants, and natural life. That's good for you and is called biophilia. Neil Chambers wrote:

Walking in a park or through a landscape seeing squirrels, birds, deer and other harmless animals lowers your systolic blood pressure (the amount of pressure blood exerts on vessels while the heart is beating), eases the effects of disorders like ADHD, and improves well-being. Researchers have long suspected this connection, and sought empirical proof. In 1984, Roger Ulrich started doing this with a simple experiment of measuring the recovery time patients who'd undergone invasive gall bladder surgery. The study case was made up of two groups. One group was placed in rooms with a view to nature. The other group had a view looking onto a brick wall. His results showed that, on average, patients with a view to nature were released a full day earlier than patients looking at the wall.

Every Hour Should Be Daylight Hour

Women without windows
Hulton Archive/ Getty Images. Give these workers a window!

It's noon, and the sun is about as high as it gets. Do you have natural light? Can you see a bit of sky? Can you see at all? Whether it is your home office or your away office, you should be able to. You will be healthier, happier, and more productive. You and every worker deserves this and should demand it. We used to say "every day should be Earth Day" and we should now be insisting that Every hour be Daylight Hour.

Sign up for Daylight Hour at the Building Energy Exchange, there are prizes!