By Tom Butters, LC

Our growing reservoir of lighting knowledge should be channeled to the general public

“We all know what 50 watts of light looks like.” I was doing a cross-country speaking tour for the Interior Designers of Canada when an award-winning interior designer scolded me as I was trying to explain the difference of light generation with LED compared to the tried-and-true incandescent/incandescent halogen options. Now, it should be pointed out that that is akin to saying, “We all know what six-foot-two weighs.” Let me tell you from personal experience, we don’t.

What this comment did illustrate, however, was that in simpler times the general public could guesstimate and be close enough to the right answer when it came to lighting. That is, if they had experience and they really weren’t too concerned with accuracy. While this designer was misguided from our perspective, she was right “enough” for her. Right enough to win awards in interior design.

Times have changed. Seemingly in the blink of an eye as far as the lighting industry goes. There is no close enough or right enough anymore. There are too many variables and the rules keep changing. The need for lighting education has never been as acute. Changes abound with the adoption of new(er) technologies, the increasing awareness of light on health both bad and good, and the whole issue of the research into our visual system and the lumen itself. First incandescent, then CRI and now the lumen? This isn’t your grandparent’s industry. Heck, it isn’t even your older sibling’s.

While there has never been a greater need of lighting education for the industry and the general public, a majority of the tried-and-true deliverers of this education—the lighting manufacturers—have cut back on face-to-face offerings, often preferring to spend their vital resources on e-learning and by extension reaching more people. Some have even cut back totally. The onus now, as it has been all along, is on the individual, just much more so.

The IES has almost 8,000 individual members and I occasionally joke 8,000 members with 9,000 opinions on education. You see, that is the point and it is a very valid one. Each individual has been educated to some degree, each of us should still feel the need to be educated, and we all have an opinion on what works for us and what we want to learn. These opinions are borne from experience. We know what has worked for us in the past and how we wish to learn now. Everybody is at least slightly different in the approach. So it’s critical that education be customized, allowing each individual to learn at their respective pace using whatever modalities that work for them. But what, where? What do we need to learn? Where do we go for the correct information with so much conflicting and at times polar opposite views? The phrase “alternative facts” does not solely rest in the realm of politics.

When I managed education for Philips, I used to start my various classes on LED with the statement, “LEDs are the best and worst thing to happen to the lighting industry.” While the “best” was obvious to all, how could I possibly call it the “worst?” I would explain that while everyone was specifying, selling and installing them, few knew exactly what they were getting. I cannot tell you how many quotes I saw that claimed the system would last 100,000 hours because they claimed 100,000-hour life at L70 but used .95 LLD for the lighting calculation and layout. I still see this more times than not. Now “worst” is undoubtedly not the case but the point was made. Most people didn’t know enough about the new technology and many of them were specifiers. The need to keep up with lighting technology is more critical than it has ever been and now reaches down to every segment of our industry and into the general population.

The volume is no problem. As an industry we are now saturated with LED “education.” What do we do when there is contradictory, or worse, misleading information? How do we even know which is which? There are no shortcuts. We need to gather as much information as possible and decipher what is accurate. IES materials are a great place to start toward lighting knowledge. I am sure many of you started your lighting voyage with IES Lighting Fundamentals, ED-100 or even ED-50. The IES has over 12 TMs, LMs and Guides on Solid State Lighting. The fact that LM-79, LM-80 and TM-21, along with TM-30, have been translated and are now available in Spanish and French illustrates the desire and need for solid-state lighting information in all three official languages of North America.

An even greater resource within the IES is the membership. The members are so giving of their knowledge and I implore those new to the industry to reach out. Putting together various upcoming educational programs I’ve been floored by the generosity of our membership in agreeing to share their knowledge and ideas.

LEDs have dominated the general public’s interest in lighting for the past decade and that is generally a good thing. I say that because for the first time probably since the change from oil to electricity the general population is actually talking about lighting. It’s our foot in the door. We now have an even more passionate lighting topic grabbing the attention of the public and that is light and its effect on health. Like LEDs before it, it is a topic that doesn’t seem to have one consensus opinion, at least from the public’s point of view. From an educational stand point we should openly discuss, debate, hypothesize, confirm and dismiss theories and ideas. There is a great opportunity here. To have the attention of the general public is a fleeting gift. It should be grabbed.

What’s equally imperative is that we disseminate our knowledge to the public in a way that’s accessible. Education shouldn’t be accomplished in the same manner as pâté de foie is made. Education cannot be the force feeding of facts to be taken for granted without questioning. The Irish poet W. B. Yeats stated, “Education is not the filling of a bucket, but the lighting of a fire.” A fire that grows but only so long as it is fed. A fire that burns slightly different for us all. One of the first things I would tell attendees at one of our two-or three-day specifier seminars was not to believe a single thing I told them. I asked them to question everything I said while reassuring them that I would never lie to them. This led to interesting discussions. When you ask a question, you take control of the conversation. When you ask questions you decide your path. Education is a living entity that has to be fed regularly. The great man Mahatma Gandhi said, “Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.” Remember our industry is quickly evolving.

We all know what 50 watts of light looks like…


Tom Butters

Tom Butters, LC

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