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The role of lighting in achieving ENERGY STAR and LEED certifications

Interest in “green” or sustainable building design remains higher than ever. Yet, there is some confusion, as both ENERGY STAR and LEED certification promote energy efficiency and designate buildings as high performers in this crucial area. So what are the key differences between ENERGY STAR and LEED certification, and what role does lighting play?



ENERGY STAR is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) program that primarily promotes and recognizes energy efficiency achievements by buildings and consumer products, such as appliances. For buildings, ENERGY STAR looks at a building’s energy usage in comparison to other buildings. In order to be ENERGY STAR qualified by the EPA, a building must achieve an ENERGY STAR score of at least 75 out of 100, meaning it is in the top 25 percent most energy-efficient facilities for its category. While ENERGY STAR recognizes energy efficiency, it does not address particular engineering or design specifications for buildings.

ENERGY STAR also recognizes lighting fixtures and other products that adhere to strict criteria regarding efficiency, quality and lifetime.


LEED certification

LEED is run by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and looks at a broad spectrum of sustainability measures including energy efficiency. LEED certification requires a holistic approach to green design, and it includes green measures not directly related to energy efficiency. Buildings can earn a higher level of LEED certification by accumulating more optional points for categories like water management and indoor air quality.

Unlike ENERGY STAR, LEED also mandates that new construction adhere to specific engineering standards related to energy efficiency. In addition, ENERGY STAR certification is a prerequisite for existing buildings pursuing LEED certification.


How lighting systems factor into sustainable building design

Lighting products and lighting systems are fundamental to any conversation about green design. In particular, the use of light emitting diode (LED) luminaires can have a powerful impact on designing an environmentally responsible facility.

LEDs were introduced in the 1960s, but the technology has improved by leaps and bounds in recent years. Here are just some of the environmental benefits LED luminaires can provide today:

  • Better efficiency resulting in less heat, which reduces the load on a building’s HVAC system
  • Better control of the light source, leading to reduced wattage, — or higher lumens per watt–and reduced energy usage compared to other light sources, such as fluorescent lamps
  • A higher lumen depreciation factor than high-intensity discharge (HID) lamps, equaling less power for the same light levels
  • Controls systems for dimming and other functions to reduce the amount of power used and cut back on lumen depreciation
  • Construction from recyclable materials such as die cast and aluminum parts

Meanwhile, modern LEDs can match HID lamps and compact fluorescent bulbs stride for stride when it comes to overall light quality. For example, warm light, tremendous color rendition and all types of lighting applications, from ambient general lighting to task lighting and accent lighting, can be achieved with energy-efficient LEDs.

However, all LED lights — even modern versions — were not created equal. That’s why it’s important to choose lighting products that are ENERGY STAR qualified. Some ENERGY STAR qualified LED products can achieve over 80 percent energy savings compared to incandescent equivalents. These same products often have an exceptionally high lumen depreciation factor, taking well over 20 years to reach the end of their lifetime.

The use of ENERGY STAR qualified LED lighting will reduce a building’s energy, maintenance and cooling costs. Many of these products provide additional benefits such as durability and dimming capabilities. In turn, LED luminaires can help a building achieve the more complex LEED certification via these key areas:

  • Energy performance and energy savings
  • Reduction of light pollution
  • Lighting controls
  • Innovative design

There is not one single path to sustainable building design. But by choosing ENERGY STAR qualified LED lighting and incorporating LEED principles into your lighting design, you’ll be well on your way to running a greener facility with sustainable, beautiful light.

Sources: ENERGY STAROLR Research ReportU.S. Green Building Council