I find that most business owners don't pay attention to lighting until the lights go out. And that, for the sake of your business and employees, is too late.

Even though I am in the lighting industry, I still run a business. And I, like most business owners, have a lot to think about and deal with every day if I want my business to be successful. When do I even have time to think about my own lights?

I have come to understand that it's often a matter of safety, the law and money.

SAFETY AND TECHNOLOGY

Business owners always are mindful of having the safest possible workplace for our employees. Quite frankly, an employee (or patron) who can see where she is going will be a safe one. At the same time, products introduced over the past few years drastically have improved lighting quality and energy savings. While compact fluorescent (CFL) and LED are recent hot topics, they only begin to cover developments in fluorescent lighting technology that are significant. Consider these facts:

  • CFL product development really has begun to bridge the performance gap with more specialized applications such as reflector floods, decorative, high lumen and dimmable versions that perform in a manner similar to traditional incandescent and halogen.

  • LEDs commonly are marketed with rated life of 50,000 hours and deliver a key benefit not available in fluorescent products — they are mercury-free. Prices gradually are falling and performance steadily is improving among LED products, but careful selection should be considered to be sure the LED provides the expected light output at an acceptable price.

  • Linear fluorescent (fluorescent tubes) offered by Philips have been improved to the point where rated life has reached 40,000 hours (12-hour cycle) and the amount of mercury traditionally used has been cut by 50 percent. These products, while still containing small amounts of mercury, last nearly twice as long as most fluorescent tubes, and cost a fraction of the emerging LED tubes that last only 50,000 hours.

CHANGES IN THE LAW

Most business owners are unaware of new laws that not only mandate energy efficiency products (and regulate the use of mercury in these products), but also in their disposal. Hefty fines can be levied for those that don't comply. Specifically:

  • EPA and many states have enacted new laws that dictate requirements for the disposal of many types of light bulbs and ballasts. In many areas, fluorescent, metal halide, high-pressure sodium and mercury vapor bulbs no longer can be disposed of in the trash.

  • Business owners who replace their own lighting should consult with their local municipality, utility or use resources such as http://www.lamprecycle.org to determine if they need to recycle and if so, how and where to do it properly. Of course, even where recycling is not mandated,business owners should give consideration to proper disposal. Lamprecycle.org has a cool app on the site to identify the nearest recycling provider to your business.

  • While the various federal, state and local agencies are incapable of policing recycling as closely as they might like, they do take advantage of random enforcements. A case-in-point took place in 2007-2008, when Macy's Retail Holdings Inc. and EPA agreed to a settlement over hazardous waste management violations at Macy's stores in Albany and Garden City, N.Y. EPA alleged in 2007 that Macy's failed to properly identify and handle spent fluorescent and other types of light bulbs at the two stores. This action cost Macy's nearly $50,000 in penalties. More responsible disposal by Macy's would have cost much less and not put it in an unfavorable position in the eye of the public.

COSTS

Now is the perfect time to consider an upgrade of the lighting in your business — to actually save money. With energy costs climbing in nearly every state, small business owners are burdened with higher lighting costs. In many cases, the costs substantially can be reduced while improving the quality of light for employees. Moreover, with the support of your local utility, it's not uncommon to see rebates of 50 percent or more paid by the utility to assist with the upfront cost of new fixtures and related installation. This added cash incentive likely will bring the payback of what could be a very costly upgrade to less than 1 year. Start now and your new lighting will be paying you before the next year ends.

At the same time, using LED and CFL lighting significantly can reduce air conditioning costs because they give off 50 to 90 percent less heat than traditional incandescent bulbs.

On the topic of air conditioning — if your business is using halogen floodlights, this pertains to you. You know how hot those PAR and MR bulbs can be. Just think how much harder your air conditioning system works during the summer to cool off your store, restaurant, office or facility because of the heat those bulbs generate. Making a switch to CFL, CCFL (cold cathode) or LEDs not only saves electricity derived from lighting, but, because these bulbs generate so little heat, they have a very favorable impact on your AC costs. The best way to determine these added savings is to have a representative from your utility visit your facility and do some fairly simple calculations — usually at no cost to you or your business.

THE MOOD EFFECT

While not so much a safety issue, lighting quality also plays a key role in improving productivity, in the display of products in certain venues or creating a mood for customers or workers. This is especially important if you run a business in which you:

  • Sell products where color and texture are important.

  • Operate a restaurant where creating the right mood for your customers could make them stay for dessert and coffee.

  • Need strong attention to detail, such as printing or auto body work.

Lighting is everything when it comes to retail. Of course, storeowners need to provide lighting for customers to navigate their way around the store, but more importantly, they need to display merchandise in the most appealing way possible. Poor lighting will cause colors of fabrics, produce, jewelry, cars, toys, etc., to appear washed out. Greens could appear gray, reds appear as burnt orange — you get the picture. Who wants to eat in a restaurant where patrons look a ghastly white? This is a common problem when the wrong type of fluorescent lighting is used.

For those of you operating a production facility, assembly and manufacturing areas should be well lit and use lighting that will help with task definition. Spending a little more per bulb will allow you to use bulbs with higher color rendering properties that make real difference to your production and assembly folks who may be dealing with highly detailed tasks. Reducing the costs associated with manufacturing defects in your business far could outweigh the added costs of better lighting for your associates.

Again, I'm just not in the lighting business; I'm also a business owner who needs to take his own medicine every day. It doesn't matter what your business is, proper lighting can make or break the day for you and your employees. See lighting in a new light.


Michael Connors is the CEO of bulbs.com, a leading online retailer of commercial and residential lighting products. He can be reached at michael.connors@bulbs.com.