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Lighting switch-off – results of a multi-channel initiative!

Written by Deborah from CarbonCulture Team on 25th February 2015

In large, open plan offices and other shared areas where building users are not individually responsible for switching off lights and equipment, influencing these behaviours can be challenging. Solving energy wastage problems through technical measures (e.g. PIR lighting) isn’t always an option. We developed and pilot assessed a multi-channel initiative to see whether lighting switch-off behaviour could be influenced where other approaches had failed.

The broader programme, which we at CarbonCulture were also involved in the design and delivery of in collaboration with Global Action Plan, identified barriers to sustainable behaviours through a Postcards initiative. HOBO light loggers were deployed across areas of the estate where, anecdotally, lights had been left on overnight unnecessarily. Submetering within buildings was not available; however, building-level electricity use data were collected and made available openly through the CarbonCulture platform.

The pilot study took place in a building where previous attempts to encourage lighting switch-off behaviour, including emails from senior staff, had failed. We used user-centred design to develop an activity aiming to be fun, voluntary, supported with senior quotes and presented to users with evidence suggesting that taking part could deliver real benefits. Initiative tools (for both online and offline components) were delivered through the CarbonCulture platform. In addition to the objective measurement aspects, the components were:


  • Web-based ‘app’ (that could be accessed though smartphone web-browsers) that awarded points to the user’s home area when reports were made of lighting switch off or barriers to this
  • Ambient screen displays showing messages to overcome permission barriers, senior support messages and the winning ‘team’
  • Blog posts explaining the initiative and reporting winners


  • Launch event where the estates team drew attention to the screen and linked the initiative to barriers mentioned in Postcards (1 hour in the morning as people arrived)
  • Floor-walking weekly (approx. 1 hour), with small treats for those areas where individuals had been participating
  • Award-giving ceremonies monthly for the winning area participants (10 minutes)

Simple protocols for offline activities were provided by CarbonCulture.

A baseline was set as the 4 weeks prior to launch, and follow-up as the 3 weeks post-launch. Basic analysis of the light logger data showed that across the 10 areas assessed (on 5 floors), the lights were on during the hours of darkness for a mean 1.5 hours per day less during follow-up vs. baseline weeks (mean, SEM: 6.5, 1.0 hours vs. 5.0, 0.9 hours; P=0.0045 [paired t-test]).

Visual inspection of the data allowed us to identify that lights were often switched back on between 12 am and 2 am, showing that the night-time staff (cleaners, security) were continuing to leave lights on.

The app was made available before the official launch date, but was not used in the target building before the screen was installed and launch event had taken place. During the follow-up, the app was used 31 times by 15 users in the target building. Fourteen ‘plays’ took place in places with light loggers. Excluding one area with very low baseline incidence of lights being on at night, places with no ‘plays’ had the smallest (or no) improvement in lighting switch-off.

Mean daily building electricity use at night was numerically higher in the follow-up period vs. baseline.  

These data suggest that we can influence behaviours with a combination of well-designed activities; however, longer-term studies will be required to see whether impact can be maintained. Previous CarbonCulture work has indicated that new initiatives and refreshers are required periodically to sustain engagement.

It is clear that data relating directly to the behaviour in question is invaluable to assessing how an initiative can be improved. This is particularly the case where other functions in the building might confound any impact on metered energy use. 

This study has enabled us to identify gaps in the initiative that will lead to improvements that could prevent turned-off lights being routinely turned back on again. In this case, night-time staff engagement (briefing and agreement to turn lights off after their rounds), will be redesigned to investigate and take account of barriers that might include staff changes. This approach of trialling a behaviour change intervention and collecting actual performance data can lead to continuous improvement, and we expect to be able to demonstrate better performance in the next deployment.

The design of the initiative allows small scale probe studies like this, which will help us to estimate the initiative impact when deployed at large scale. It would not be cost-effective to perform this level of objective data collection and analysis for every deployment.

Our plan is to make this initiative more widely available for trials in other places. If your workplace has manual lighting controls and you would like to run a trial (and are able to resource it) please get in touch!


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Chris on 23rd March 2015 at 3:00 p.m.

This is excellent news, great to see the platform having real world impact!!

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