Today’s LED Lighting fixtures have a much greater edge over fluorescent lamps when considering a lighting system’s impact on the environment, and that gap is expected to grow significantly as technology and manufacturing methods improve.
Comprehensive reports analysis available from the US Department of Energy indicates technological advancements in the near future will help people who use these lamps to keep shrinking their footprint on the environment.
DOE environmental reports examines total impact on the environment, including the energy and natural resources needed to manufacture, transport, operate and dispose of light bulbs.
Many different impacts need to be considered when evaluating your footprint on the environment, including the potential to increase global warming, use land formerly available to wildlife, generate waste and pollute water, soil and air.
When choosing a lighting system one must examine the complete life cycles of three kinds of light: light-emitting diodes, also called LEDs, Tube & CFL fluorescents lamps, and traditional incandescent light bulbs.
Completed for the Solid-State Lighting Program of DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, a report from the Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and UK-based N14 Energy Limited, is the first public report to examine the impact on the environment of LED manufacturing in depth. Manufacturing processes contribute substantially to a light bulb’s overall impact on the environment, but companies generally keep manufacturing information private.
The research team was able to gather manufacturing data with the help of industry consultants and some companies on the condition that the final report would not reveal individual company data.
Incandescents lose out
To do the analysis, the team chose specific bulbs that best represent what’s most typical and widely available for each of the three types of lights they studied. They then used a database to calculate the resources needed to produce the various components of the three light bulbs. That analysis revealed both LEDs and CFLs are substantially more friendly to the environment then traditional incandescents, which consume far more electricity.
By using more energy to create light, incandescent bulbs also use more of the natural resources needed to generate the electricity that powers them, the impact of lighting on the environment would be reduced by three to 10 times if we choose more efficient lighting instead of incandescents.
The energy consumed by lights when they’re turned on makes up the majority of their impact on the environment. Power consumption is greatly being reduced when choosing LEDs over other lighting technologies, and the overall environmental performance is also largely determined by the energy and resources needed to make them.
No mercury advantage
CFLs were found to cause more harm on the environment than LED lighting in impact areas studied. The one standout area was generating hazardous waste that must be taken to a landfill.
Many people do not treat fluorescents tubes and bulbs as hazardous waste, which is what they are, and often bulbs wind up in a landfill were, the Mercury gets released into the ground and the waterway. That’s really the biggest concern with fluorescent bulbs.
LED lighting also has over 70 percent less impacts that those found in today’s CFLs, which are not expected to change significantly in the near future.
Switching to LED fixtures certainly solves an immediate challenge to the environment —reducing the business carbon emissions from facility electricity usage and protecting ground water during your lighting systems end of life disposal —they’re also a promising investment in the future. As advances like smart controls and network automation gain traction, LED lighting systems will enable productivity and efficiency at the workplace, illuminating a path toward more profitable and sustainable operations.
- Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, “Study: Environmental Benefits of LEDs Greater Than CFLs” https://energy.gov/eere/articles/study-environmental-benefits-leds-greater-cfls
- Heather E. Dillon and Michael J. Scholand, “Life-Cycle Assessment of Energy and Environmental Impacts of LED Lighting Products, Part 2: LED Manufacturing and Performance,” http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/publications/pdfs/ssl/2012_led_lca-pt2.pdf