GE has just announced its new C-Sleep LED bulbs, which are “designed for your natural sleep cycle.” This is, of itself, not particularly new; Matt has shown bulbs that make “your comfort, health and overall well-being a top priority.” What’s interesting is that this bulb comes from GE, a company that pretty much invented the lightbulb (it’s the successor company to Edison Electric) and is a huge, mainstream corporation. And where a year ago it might have been pitching its bulbs with a story about energy savings, now it's all about wellness.
Now that people are more aware of what it means to be responsible towards the environment, it is time to promote a new vision of built environment where the main goal is the occupant’s well-being.
She has a point; wellness has often been ignored. In fact, some so-called green builders, with their emphasis on energy saving, often made our homes and offices less healthy by sealing them up tight in ways that trapped VOCs, radon and other harmful chemicals. Health and wellness were secondary considerations.
Then there's the lightbulb. For years, governments and greens alike pushed the economic benefits of compact fluorescent bulbs, even though they rendered color terribly and made everything drab and blue. Then study after study showed that it’s the color of light that matters for sleep. GE, in its own studies of lighting and sleep, concluded:
Several studies have demonstrated, with conclusive statistical strength, that nighttime light exposure can suppress the production of melatonin, which is secreted by the pineal gland. This suppression, in turn, hinders our ability to fall to sleep, and wake, on a regular schedule.
So GE’s new C-Sleep bulb is orangey in the evening to lull you to sleep, and blue in the morning to take into account how our bodies are affected by light. The bulb is designed around our circadian rhythms.
The Well Building Standard measures wellness
Back when the Well Building Standard was launched, I was dubious, particularly of the lighting section and the obsession with circadian lighting. Sure, it’s important, but having a window and a view to the outside is enough, right? Ten years ago, circadian lighting was up there with pyramid power as mumbo jumbo. Not now, as more research keeps backing up how important it is. One study even claims that blue light at night causes cancer.
And in fact, the Well Standard has been greeted with open arms by the U.S. Green Building Council and others as a way of adding a whole new layer of wellness to green building — suddenly everyone is thinking and talking about it.
Some think this is all ridiculous. Architect and author Lance Hosey reminds us in a series of angry tweets that green building was always about healthy building. And I also have been saying for years that in green building, you can’t separate energy from health. But it was never the primary concern. In fact, the LEED building certification system was often attacked for not saving enough energy, because its requirements for fresh air and other aspects of wellness made buildings less energy-efficient than they could have been. Building science expert Joe Lstiburek actually complained that LEED buildings have too much fresh air “because of activists on the LEED committee that say everything in a building is unhealthy and sick.”
Or is it all just marketing?
There's another side to the push on wellness: energy is cheap these days and saving it was never a great sales pitch in the first place. Spending a pile of money on insulation to save a few bucks a year never was as attractive a proposition as a new granite counter, and it's even less so now with oil and gas sloshing around the country. Green concepts of sustainability and resilience were also hard sells in a country where discussions about climate are so politicized.
But wellness — from Oprah and Gwyneth Paltrow to the yoga boom — that’s big these days, in both red and blue states.
And that’s where GE comes into the story. Until now, the companies pushing lightbulbs with a wellness story were Kickstarters that are still in pre-order or ended up vaporware. GE is an entire different scale of operation, and the bulbs will no doubt be in every Home Depot and Lowes.
Wellness is now mainstream. It really is the new green.