Human Centric Lighting is…

I was recently asked to define the catchy term Human Centric Lighting, or HCL. We love lighting acronyms in the lighting world, so I came up with a few more than my previous post on this subject. Consider yourself warned.

At its most essential, Human Centric Lighting is an attempt to undo our mistakes of the last 140 years. By “our” I mean the professional lighting community. We messed up, big time. Sure, our intentions were good, but our feeble understanding of light was way better than our almost nonexistent knowledge of human biology.

Human Centric Lighting requires a recognition that we are Lighting Centric Humans, that our bodies and minds need different kinds of light for different things at different times of day. HCL is an attempt to fix the mess we made when we disconnected from the sun and confined ourselves to a state of perpetual twilight indoors. When Thomas Edison commercialized the electric light bulb, it was as if we asked the sun to stop at 10am and stay there. For eternity. Our indoor environments haven’t changed much since then.

And we have been languishing under different acronyms (which I just made up) like ECL, FCL, CCL, and PCL.

PCL, or Profit Centric Lighting, is lighting we have because someone realized they could sell it to us and make money, period.

ECL is Energy Centric Lighting that puts the lowest energy usage as the highest priority, regardless of the human suffering caused.

FCL is Fashion Centric Lighting that gives us great looking chandeliers that deliver absolutely horrible light.

CCL is Contractor Centric Lighting that helps them deliver on time and on budget and compete in a cutthroat industry…so it is the cheapest and easiest to install, regardless of how it makes us feel.

Got all those memorized? Neither do I. But it helps to define Human Centric Lighting by what it is most assuredly not.

Personally, I think HCL is mostly just another gimmick, a marketing term, that gets it all backwards. True HCL would not be human centric at all, it would be focused on natural light. HCL, as some define it, would allow us to boost light at 4am so you could get that project finished up. Of course we would crash later, and true HCL would make us sleepy at 4am – not alert.

Okay, so if there is a better choice out there, why are we still stuck with lights that turn on and off and stay the same white all day long? The science is ready, the light fixtures are ready, so why does not everyone have HCL?

A big reason is that people do not know any better, and we have only ourselves to blame.

One reason is that we made people choose the right white light, or color temperature, when there isn’t one.

We made people choose the lowest energy solution, but without concern for our welfare.

We made people believe that symmetry and beauty were more important than our own biology.

Another reason is that it takes some pretty smart people and advanced technology to adequately implement Human Centric Lighting. Nobody has to think about the sun coming up, or adjusting the light every minute or so until midday. Nobody has to think about whether they want light or dark, but right now we do require people to think hard if they want anything other than on and off.

Real human centric lighting, or lighting that helps us live life to its fullest, would simply be about replicating everything good about natural light and limiting everything that is bad. True human centric lighting would recognize that our bodies are centric to light, not vice versa, and would help us adapt to real local time.

Human Centric Lighting would also not be technology centric, but would use technology to take the thinking out of light for us, just like the sun. Technology is needed to get the electric suns in our homes to unstick from noon and to rise and set to support our bodies and minds.

Be careful. Many want you to believe that HCL is the way it should be…when it really is just the way it could be. Do not forget that we are LCH, lighting centric humans. Many want you to believe that simply changing the color temperature of your lights will heal every ill. It won’t. Our bodies are much more complex than that and color is just a part of the solution.

Sound messy and confusing? It is. We’re all too busy trying to put food on the table or make the next million to really make this work for everyone. Sorry about that. We can make light better for everyone if we try, but it will take all of us working together: homeowners, builders, electricians, integrators, manufacturers, and designers. It will take thinking outside of the proverbial box.

Or you could do it the easy way. Go live in a tent.

4 thoughts on “Human Centric Lighting is…

Add yours

  1. “True human centric lighting would recognize that our bodies are centric to light, not vice versa, and would help us adapt to real local time.” Since the discovery of fire, man has been trying to extend his daylight for all sorts of functions. You seem to be a proponent of “living exclusively by the sun” which is very contrary to most all of humanity currently. However, I am interested in your implementation proposals on achieving the lifestyle you propose; especially in a retrofit situation.

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    1. Well said! We have done everything we can to master light- indeed it has been my life’s work. Am I advocating for “living by the sun?” Yes…within reason. But what is reasonable? Is it reasonable to expect we would wake every day without an alarm clock? I think so. Is it reasonable to think we would be entrained to local time and fall asleep naturally? I think so. Is it reasonable to think I would go to bed at 5pm in the winter? Probably not. But the social jet lag I live with and even self-impose does not keep me from dreaming of living in deeper connection to the natural rhythms of the sun.

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    1. That’s a billion-dollar question! Right now I am experimenting with the new Cync product by GE/Savant. The Savant app is amazing for naturally inspired lighting; I have yet to see how it works within their GE system.

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