This story was originally published in Architectural Lighting.

Courtesy Selin Ashaboglu

Greenbuild 2017 was held at the Boston Convention Center Nov. 6 - 11, 2017. The conference and tradeshow was interwoven with the Boston Society of Architect’s annual ABX Conference, helping to drive attendance to more than 20,000 attendees. This annual gathering of the United States green building community has grown steadily since its debut in 2002 in Austin, Tx., which drew an initial crowd of about 2,000 early adopters of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program.

Having attended both the first and most recent Greenbuild conferences, along with many in between, I’ve witnessed the steady growth and influence of this conference and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in the design and delivery of high performance buildings. During the leadership luncheon, USGBC Executive Director Mahesh Ramanujam announced that more than 90,000 buildings worldwide have achieved or are pursing some type of LEED certification. If plenary speakers are a signifier of success, then the rousing opening and closing speeches delivered by President Bill Clinton and astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson indicate that the green building industry is doing well, while doing good.

For the largely absent lighting design profession (Greenbuild does not seem to draw lighting design professionals), I noted a strengthening interest in two seemingly different, but likely convergent trends in sustainable design: human health and the “Internet of Things.”

LEED’s sister rating system, the WELL Building Standard, is driving interest in human factors. Lighting is one of its seven “features” with an emphasis on circadian health driven by optimal daylighting and controllable architectural lighting. The WELL booth on the exhibit floor was a center of social and educational activity where I had a lively conversation with Nancy Clanton, FIALD, LEED Fellow, and Chad Groshart, IALD, LEED AP, WELL AP about the current state of applied lighting research. Although very few lighting manufacturers were exhibiting, the Acuity Brands, LeGrand, and Crestron booths entertained a steady stream of visitors interested in LED, tunable-white, and dimming technologies.

On the seminar front, several educational sessions addressed topics such as “The Wellness/Energy Nexus,” “Steps to a Healthy Lightstyle,” and “From Lab to Workplace: Research Advancing Health & Wellbeing.” Researchers such as Harvard Medical School Associate Professor Dr. Steven Lockley and Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory Senior Advisor Stephen Selkowitz along with high-tech manufacturers like PlanLED’s president John Hwang predominated, while lighting designers were conspicuously absent from the speaker roster. The lighting industry will face a growing demand for illumination to support human health factors based on advances made by scientists and technologists.

One of the more controversial sessions was, “Zen and the Art of IoT Buildings,” a conversation between Enlighted senior director Carol Jones andsustainability advocate John Picard. The two discussed their enthusiasm for a “post-privacy” world of buildings that intelligently monitor and respond to occupancy and climate. “A building that is alive. Think of it as a Frankenstein or as an exciting future,” Picard said as he observed that lighting is the natural system for IoT since it exists in every occupied space. Luminaires that are located about every 100 square feet could provide the necessary granularity for multi-functional sensors to adaptively control lighting, thermal, and acoustic comfort, as well as to track occupancy for space planning, security, and safety.

For lighting designers, the convergence of IoT with human health and visual performance will come with the interoperability of intuitive lighting and environmental control systems. The question will be whether building owners, operators, and occupants are ready to invest in a revolutionary disruption that puts the monitoring and control of their privacy and circadian health in the Cloud. Greenbuild 2017 reinforced my notion that the ethics of lighting design have shifted from influencing aesthetics and energy performance to affecting human wellness and building automation.

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