We collectively need a major turn off in the world. And no I’m not talking about the lost sex tapes of William H. Taft (did you know he earned the nickname “Tubby” because he was so portly he got stuck in the White House bathtub several times?). What we need to do is turn out the lights. Not in our houses, I think we’ve gotten that down pretty well although there are some husbands out there who shall remain nameless who are completely hopeless in this regard, but in our commercial spaces. Did you know there’s no good reason we leave the lights on all night in commercial buildings? And yet we persist in leaving on all of these lights, burning money, burning coal and burning gas in the process for “no . . . good . . . reason”. How does this make any sense? How has no one grabbed this low hanging carbon reducing fruit by the cajones and run with it? Turning off lights would save money and is easy.
Why don’t we turn off commercial lights at night? Lights Out Boston indicates that some buildings leave lights on all night for branding purposes. Branding? Seriously? How about a nice lit sign out front, a spectacular lobby, a great P.R. person and competitive rents and call it a day? There’s no doubt we should make an exception for beautiful branding lights in the towers ala the Chrysler Tower in New York or the Custom House in Boston, but I doubt it’s ever necessary to light an entire building. Plus they don’t need to stay on from 2am – 5am no matter how beautiful unless it’s for safety purposes. I’m pretty sure saving our environment from climate change is more important than branding commercial buildings through lighting. Why, you ask? Those coastal commercial buildings are going to be a lot less useful under 10 feet of water.
The other reason we leave lights on is that older buildings have one switch per floor that control all of the lights for that floor. As a result cleaning crews may need to turn on all the lights on a floor when they are cleaning. This makes sense except that when you look at an urban skyline typically buildings are lit top to bottom, so the cleaning crew argument is bunk. And you can’t convince me that some employee is working at 3am on every floor in that building. If they are, I want to hire all of them!
The final reason is safety and I get that. If lights are on for safety purposes and are absolutely necessary for that purpose, like the nightlight we leave on for granny when she comes to visit, I get it. My only suggestion would be to minimize those lights and make sure they’re efficient.
The City of Boston has a program called Lights Out Boston that encourages commercial building owners and managers to turn off the lights from 11pm – 5am during the spring bird migration season. NYC, Baltimore, Chicago, Minneapolis,, St. Paul, and Toronto are also involved in similar programs focused on lights out during bird migration. This is very admirable, crucial for birds during migration and a step above many cities, but why not do this all year long? Why not do this in every city every night worldwide?
This is so ridiculously easy, it’s stupid. First, commercial building owners in the U.S. are easy to reach through their various commercial organizations like NAIOP or ICSC and publications like CIRE or NREI or at the very least through the commercial agent community. Second, if they’re already turning off lights during the spring, it should be easy to extend that program throughout the year. Third, if they aren’t doing this during the spring, they can be easily incentivized to do it through savings statistics from buildings that are. Fourth, it costs nothing. Fifth, it’s as easy as flipping a switch.
Who wants to write an article about this for a commercial real estate publication? Anyone? Anyone? Bueller? Oh, I guess that leaves me. I have to do everything around here.