Sustainable lighting

You can't have a light without a dark to stick it in. — Arlo Guthrie

Over the sales floor; behind the scenes in kitchens, coolers, offices, restrooms, storage closets and meeting rooms; and all around outside; PCC’s nine stores and business office have many “darks” that need light. The challenge of efficiently and economically illuminating more than 160,000 square feet of products and work areas is no small undertaking, especially given that PCC has close to 1,000 employees who need to remember — or be reminded — to turn off the lights.

Different stores, different lights

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PCC operates stores that vary in age from 11 months (Edmonds) to 31 years (Kirkland), range in size from 9,000 to 24,500 square feet, and collectively pose a wide variety of lighting situations. Natural lighting is preferable, and used to maximum benefit in newer stores through the incorporation of specially glazed, heat-blocking window glass and energy-saving skylights, and older stores have undergone fixture upgrades that have improved lighting efficiency.

However, all stores employ busy people with more on their minds than lighting, several stores have old fixtures or original circuitries that preclude operating lights individually, and any one store might need more than a dozen different bulbs to satisfy all of its lighting needs.

Many hands make light work

PCC’s green teams, comprised of employees looking for ways to make their workplaces more sustainable, have been identifying areas and times where electricity and money can be saved with different or reduced lighting. PCC’s director of store development, Lori Ross, who knows the pros and cons of suggested lighting changes, is reviewing their recommendations to determine costs and labor involved in pursuing them.

But even before changes are made there is a lot to be gained just by raising awareness of lights left on needlessly and in reminding staff that simply flipping a switch when leaving a work area can contribute significantly to the environment and PCC’s bottom line. To that end, PCC’s graphics department is developing new signs for all PCC locations to support a company-wide “Lights Out” campaign that begins this month. Energy use by location is being monitored to measure the impact of this energy-saving effort.

In the dark about types of light

Employees and customers often express confusion about lighting choices in terms of cost, environmental impact and proper disposal, and many aren’t aware that incandescent bulbs will no longer be an option within five years. A few basics can keep you out of the dark when it comes to lighting decisions:

Incandescent bulbs: With all due respect to Thomas Edison, inventor of this bulb, incandescent bulbs are no longer a good lighting choice. They work by producing light when a tungsten filament inside them is heated up to 4,500 degrees, at which point it emits a bright yellow, almost white, light. This process generates far more heat than light and all of the heat is energy wasted. A bulb lasts only up to 1,000 hours and then lasts forever in a landfill. A nationwide phaseout of incandescent bulbs, mandated by federal legislation passed in late 2007, will begin in 2012 and end in 2014, after which even the nostalgic won’t be able to buy them.

CFL (compact fluorescent) bulbs: Currently the best choice for residential use, CFLs emit the same light as incandescent bulbs, use as much as 80 percent less electricity and last up to 12 times longer. They are smaller versions of fluorescent lights used in schools and businesses but screw into a standard light socket and are available in several styles in addition to the common “spiral.”

In most communities it is illegal to put CFLs in the trash as the small amount of mercury they need to operate (an average of 4 to 6 milligrams each) could be harmful to people and the environment if released. To find locations for proper disposal of CFLs in neighborhoods served by PCC, visit King County Hazardous Waste Management or the Snohomish PUD. For more information about how, when and where to use CFLs, visit the Seattle City Light Web site.

LEDs (light emitting diodes): An LED is comprised of several tiny light bulbs — actually simple silicon-based semiconductor devices — that are clustered in an electrical circuit and emit light when current passes through them. They don’t rely on a filament that burns out and can last from 50 to 100 times longer than incandescent bulbs that do. They produce very little heat making them ideal for illuminating food in refrigerated cases. LEDs light the dairy and frozen cases at PCC’s Redmond and Edmonds stores, and are being installed in new fixtures at the Issaquah store as part of a remodel. There currently are limited residential applications for these expensive light sources (beyond holiday lights and digital clocks) — but that will change as the cost of semiconductors goes down.

On the lighter side

Two “urban legends” persist regarding fluorescent lights. One is that more energy is required to turn on a fluorescent bulb than to run it; the other is that turning a fluorescent light on and off often quickly wears out the bulb. There is a bit of truth in these misconceptions, as explained in great detail in an analysis published by the Lighting Design Lab, but in almost all instances, it is far better to turn off any light that is not needed. A rule-of-thumb for fluorescent lights from the California Energy Commission suggests turning them off if not needed for more than 3 to 5 minutes.

More about: LEED certified, sustainability

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Diana Chapman
Director of Sustainability

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