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Lighting’s role in healthy building design


June, 2017

There is growing scientific evidence that environmental factors such as light and sound effect our well-being. While we all know instinctively that sunshine makes us happier and certain noises relax or annoy us, research also suggests that environmental factors can help regulate our body clocks, empower performance and influence mood.


Scientists consider vision to be the most important sense, with some suggesting that 80% of the information we receive comes from our sight. As a result, activities such as working at a desk or in front of a screen for long periods of time, require energy and can result in eye strain and mental fatigue. 


Today, we spend around 80 - 90% of our time indoors.  As such, the lighting in our home and workplace environments can have a significant biological and emotional impact; it is therefore critical that these environments create the optimal lighting conditions for visual comfort. Over the last 15 years, scientific evidence making the connection between light and human well-being has intensified. One of the most exciting areas of development has concerned the effect of light on our circadian (daily) cycles.


By maintaining our circadian rhythm, or body clock, light helps regulate important processes in our bodies. Studies have shown that the body's hormone levels rise and fall in a daily cyclic pattern, maintained and synchronized by our daily exposure to the light-darkness cycle. Light therefore helps to regulate our biological clock and thus influences many aspects of our well-being.


Several studies have shown, for example, that exposure to higher illuminance levels will result in feelings of increased alertness and better performance and that the right lighting can enhance concentration and mood (e.g. Sleegers 2012, Goven 2011, Barkmann 2010). While a recent report indicated that office workers with enough light nutrition had better sleep and less depression (Figueiro, 2017).

Light also influences how we perceive spaces. The same space could either look gloomy and depressing, or bright and energising depending on the lighting. The perceived message may affect mood, motivation, concentration and behaviour.

Furthermore, with studies, such as one conducted by McLean & Company, highlighting that disengaged employees cost organisations an average of $3,400 a year for every $10,000 in annual salary (Haydon, 2013), ignoring opportunities to improve the workplace environment could prove costly to an organisation.   

Given the beneficial effects of daylight, surely we should expect artificial lighting schemes that reflect its natural rhythm and provide the light nutrition required to support health and well-being. In the workplace, this then means taking human-centric design beyond ergonomic furniture, and comfortable room temperatures to reflect the importance that lighting plays in the work environment. Just as adjustable height have become commonplace, so too should lighting that adapts to an individual’s needs and preferences. Such lighting can affect our well-being, improve levels of concentration and increase productivity, in turn impacting sick leave, job satisfaction and company loyalty.

With recent studies, like the Steelcase Global Report illustrating a high correlation between workplace satisfaction and employee engagement, it’s clear that improvements in this area could play an important role in an organisation’s engagement strategy.  


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