Jul 13, 2021

By Alex Baker

Smoked Lucite was a ridiculous material with which to craft luminaires, though as a kid in the 1970s I couldn’t explain why this design trend bothered me. I can now articulate with an abundance of snark that wasting precious incandescent filament photons within brown-tinted optics thwarting their passage is an asinine way to employ electron flow. Lots of things in the ’70s were weird yet fascinating to me, thus I could not resist flipping through the 1971 issues of LD+A to compare and contrast with today.

It will come as little surprise that 50 years ago, IES was mostly a men’s club. Photos of annual and regional conferences, committee meetings and such are dominated by men in suits and ties. Illustrations captioned “this man,” advertisements addressed “Mr. Lighting Designer,” even interior designer Kathleen Caldwell’s prescient opinion letter invoked male pronouns writing about “techniques which offer man lighting systems that simulate nature’s cycles of light variations.” One gets the impression women had not yet developed eyes or visual cortices or use for illumination. With few exceptions, women were portrayed as merely accompanying husbands to events, fulfilling secretarial roles or being beautifully ignorant about lighting. By my estimation there is much greater gender diversity among today’s lighting professionals, and within IES membership. Thank goodness. One wouldn’t reasonably assert, however, that we’ve reached equity, as evidenced by the recent survey from Women in Lighting + Design which asked: “Are women in lighting making the U.S. average of $0.82 to the dollar of a man’s salary?”

RACIAL DIVERSITY AND EQUITY remain elusive. In the 1971 IES Presidential Address from T.L. Cordle (reprinted in LD+A, September ’71), Cordle notes: “A question as to the Society’s position on equal opportunity was raised at last year’s annual meeting.” The IES Board responded, “Be it resolved that the… Society reaffirms its commitment to (1) the principle of equal opportunity for all those in the field of lighting, regardless of sex, race, creed, or national origin, to follow their scholarly and professional interests and (2) the principle of their recognition and treatment, in wages and all other respects, on the basis of merit alone.” A new program to develop career interest among minority students accompanied this statement. The intent was evident, but the program’s progress was not tracked in LD+A.

Today, one need look no further than the name of the newest IES Committee—Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Respect (DEIR)—for confirmation that our Society, and our society, still falls short of equal opportunity, recognition and fair treatment. Before seating this new committee, the IES Board of Directors and staff stated in June last year that “the IES supports inclusion… supports our Black members, volunteers, employees and the entire Black community… [and] supports uniting and speaking out.”

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In contrast, I haven’t seen one lighting manufacturer, distributor, lighting design firm or otherwise issue a public statement in opposition to the targeted voting rights restrictions presently rolling through U.S. state legislatures. Even in Georgia where an outsize portion of the North American lighting industry is based, and where such legislation originated and became law, nothing. While hundreds of disparate companies across the country issue statements disapproving of efforts to frustrate their workers’ ability to vote, our industry, it seems, is content to remain silent.

Concern for balancing illumination needs and environmental impact is apparent in the back-and-forth between 1971’s columnists and commenters. Remarking on a manager’s office desktop with 200 footcandles [sic] / 18.5 watts per sq ft [seriously] depicted in LD+A’s predecessor, Illuminating Engineering, Leonard G. Parks of the Uris Buildings Corporation wrote: “This is stated to be an illustration of good lighting practice and an aid in the design of similar installations. Whither are we going? In the present climate of ever-increasing concern about our environment, sooner or later the finger will point at IES as a major instigator of pollution.” The editorial note that followed indicated that “levels recommended for office lighting may soon be revised upward” by the Committee on Recommendations for Quality and Quantity of Illumination. Indeed, in that same issue, Berlon C. Cooper, Fellow IES, offered “A Statistical Look at the Future of Lighting,” in which he posited that “with promotion,” average task illuminance could reach 300 footcandles by the year 2000.

SMOLDERING INDOOR ILLUMINANCE recommendations eventually retreated to double digits, with condolences to the 200 Footcandle Club (December ’71). Today’s recommendations are saner, less environmentally impactful and informed by a larger body of research. Yet while continuing adoption of solid-state lighting realizes promised energy savings, our aging populations and delayed retirements again justify increasing illumination levels and electrical load. Much of our industry is at the same time transfixed by visions of a circadian reality in which users of all ages control their lights in hopes that, in essence, their lights will control them. Not without environmental impact, however; an August 2020 Pacific Northwest National Laboratory paper “estimated that energy use may increase between 10% and 100% because of increased luminaire light levels used to meet circadian lighting design recommendations listed in…WELL v2 Q2 2019, UL Design Guideline 24480, and CHPS Core Criteria 3.0.”

This March, the DesignLights Consortium issued an RFP “seeking a consultant to characterize the LED light and wellness lighting market as it pertains to commercial applications” (i.e., office, education, healthcare), wherein light and wellness products “are those designed and marketed to provide some circadian lighting attribute(s).” These utilities seek to identify current market trends and barriers, manufacturers and SKU counts, and key value chain members. But whither are we going, in the present climate of ever-increasing concern about our environment? Are these more consumptive systems to be promoted? Can light and wellness be a parallel pursuit to energy efficiency, or are they inherently at odds?

WORRISOME OUTDOOR LIGHTING practices were also featured in the 1971 issues. Ballast losses not included, lamps totaling 129 kilowatts were employed to wash the San Diego Gas & Electric Company’s headquarters (August 1971). In the next issue, the comparably sized and equipped Trust Company of Georgia building served as “A Luminous Jewel on Atlanta’s Skyline.” A few pages later, the headline “42 Acres of Floodlighting” might give dark-sky advocates heart palpitations. Light pollution has grown dramatically but today our Society is working collaboratively to mitigate light pollution (more in my October column).

Mr. T.L. Cordle concluded his 1971 Presidential Address noting: “We must move faster by obtaining greater knowledge, and through better dissemination of that knowledge.” In this I see alignment with today’s IES mission statement, and derive comfort that the more things don’t change, the more they stay the same.


Alex Baker

Alex Baker

Alex heads government affairs and public policy efforts for the IES, working closely with federal and state agencies, elected officials, and allied organizations. With 20 years in the lighting industry, Alex previously worked in standards development for Philips, Lumileds, and... More info »