Building on the sustainability and lighting discussion started at the American Institute of Architects National Convention in San Antonio, Texas, another roundtable was held at Lightfair International in New York City. Here too the conversation was organized around the topic of sustainability, but the fluidity of the discussion saw many other topics introduced as well. Moderated by editor Elizabeth Donoff, the AIA discussion participants included: Mark Loeffler, Associate Director, Atelier Ten, New Haven, Connecticut; Sean O'Connor, Principal, Sean O'Connor Associates, Los Angeles and Philadelphia; Jonathan Speirs, Principal, Speirs and Major Associates, Edinburgh, Scotland, and London; Linnaea Tillett,Principal, Tillett Lighting Design, Brooklyn, New York; Tom Warton, President, Vode Lighting, Sonoma, California; Bill Warren, Lighting and Energy Consultant, Willard L. Warren Associates, New York; and Scott Yu, Principal, Chief Creative Officer, Vode Lighting, Sonoma, California. A full transcript is available online at

WHERE DOES SUSTAINABILITY START IN THE DESIGN PROCESS AND THE MANUFACTURING PROCESS? IS THERE SOMETHING THAT ALREADY HAS TO BE INHERENT IN OUR MIND SET OR IS IT SOMETHING THAT IS SO FUNDAMENTAL AND INTEGRATED IT SHOULDN'T BE A DIFFERENT CONSIDERATION, BUT INHERENT TO THE WAY WE APPROACH OUR WORK? BW: I've come to the conclusion that our friends in Europe are considered store keepers and Americans are score keepers. Nobody was paying any attention to this subject until LEED came out. Too many people are focusing on a much larger conceptual image. I hear the word “planet“ used a lot. I'd like to see the concept change a little bit so that everyone feels personally involved.

ML: The fundamentals have to do with durability and simplicity. Not just having the right materials, but making sure that the building design holds up over time. We need to be designing as they did hundreds of years ago, for buildings that are permanent and have delight built into them, so people don't feel they need to churn through a new design or renovation every 10 years, but instead think in terms of 50–100 year horizons. I think the real shift right now is not the adoption of a scorecard method, but the recognition that you really don't have to do without. I think for those of us in the lighting industry it's about the visual environment and the durability of that, and what we do—not just with the selection of fixtures to make the place look pretty, but how it's controlled to reinforce the perception of the building as durable. It's just thoughtful design. “Sustainable” or “green” is just branding.

SY: I come from the product side, and 70 percent of energy and materials are used before we actually get our hands on the product itself. It's already spent and done—machinery, melting the plastic, all that infrastructure is there before we do anything. Then there is a lifetime of energy uses after the consumer. I've been very interested in trying to find out how we can make that a real part of our consideration because the real impact is before we even get the product, all the transportation and packaging.

SO WHAT IS IT YOU'RE TRYING TO CORRECT? SY: It's a bit of a comparison. I used to work with Apple and HP. What we found was that most of the products are on the shelf for about six months, when they actually have a useful life span of a year. Most of that goes to China as cyber waste—there's really no recycling in this country. Everything gets shipped over to China and melted down. At Vode we want to use the best materials, like aluminum, which is 97 percent recycled material.

TW: Our goal is to talk about these things so that designers influence those people who are competing with us on product design. I'm surprised when we go to China, where our product is made—the influence that these companies could have. On the lighting design side, it's just good design. If we can get that influence to go back “upstream” to the people that really have an impact on the manufacturing process, force those people who aren't really thinking about product design as well as they should, that would have a great impact.

ML: I get in trouble with some of my fancier designer friends when I say that I'm ultimately an energy and environmental investment advisor. Yes, I'm going to make a beautiful space, but really energy costs and installation costs have an environmental impact. It's up to me to give them the best lighting approach that is integrated well with the building system so that it's using the lowest energy and will have the greatest impact and the greatest prospect for visual success over the long term. The more I know what is available out there to me, the better. We walk around the tradeshow collecting materials about the clever things companies are doing, big and small, and who is exhibiting environmental responsibility, and we give them preference in our specification to make sure that it's understood as part of the ethic of sustainable design.

LT: I think there is a way of framing the problem in terms of technology that supports companies like Wal-Mart saying, ”Here is the green answer.” But there is a certain level of reorganization of values and a certain loss when in fact the most energy-efficient thing we can do is turn the lights off. If you use less of them, you'll have less of a recycling problem. That is a direction toward the consumer and consumption level, not the building level, and not even the power distribution level. It's about saying yes, you are going to have to reshuffle your priorities and think about this differently.

ML: Lighting design is about control. We're controlling the impression of the visual environment by the way we light it, what we light. The code folks have heard us loud and clear—it's not the lighting density but how you control the lighting you install so that you increase its life and durability, less frequently change lamps, and so on. We have a challenge, it's less about the incremental technology.

LT: There is a remarkable article I'd recommend in the Harvard Design Review, “No Building Is An Island,” which is just shocking. They are saying that 25 percent of energy use in buildings, which are not meeting all of LEED but at least some of LEED criteria, comes from people massing in atria with their computers and cell phones and actually raising the energy consumption of the building. As lighting designers there are some elements that we can address—this idea of education and how you teach students to think about it: You can create a very well-lit space, a very beautiful space, and that may have the implication that more people use it and more people bring their computers. There is an education level for the consumer at a much broader level that makes an intervention make sense. I'm not saying that we have to take that on individually, but that does seem to go to the education issue.

ML: To the issue of education, I think it's clear that lighting designers are not just lighting designers anymore; we're environmental designers. We may have a specialty in the visual environment, but we have to be conversant in all these other issues. Most of us take it as we need to defend our practice—why do you need good lighting? We should not be having to defend ourselves, but by being able to explain this is an intrinsic part of a successful, durable, sustainable built environment. It's really incumbent upon us to teach designers coming up, who I think are absolutely responsive to this. We know that our students are hungry for this information about: What is sustainable design? How does building-skin design affect my ability to perfectly size a lighting system? What does that mean for the controls so that a building is a living, breathing machine? And yes, it does mean that the most delightful, sustainable buildings are going to draw a crowd because everybody would rather be there than sitting in their not-sustainable home or apartment. TW: Hopefully the use of electricity itself at some point will not be a bad thing if the source is clean.

LT: Which speaks to the production end of it—it's production and consumption.

BW: Or something in the middle called transmission congestion. It's what happened to Astoria for nine days last year. ConEd and every other utility is now choking with use. All of these residential users are using a lot more electricity. That's your 25 percent relating to LEED. What we're finding in energy conservation in high-rise apartment houses is that if you separately meter every tenant, you are guaranteed a minimum of 25 percent reduction in energy usage.

ML: We're going to have work with the control industry.