It isn't easy being green. When the innovative lighting system in the new Toronto headquarters of TV broadcaster Corus Entertainment Inc. proved to be extraordinarily complicated to install and tune, for months chief technology officer Scott Dyer would drive to the building at 2 a.m. and walk around outside to see what lights were on inside.
"We couldn't go inside to check because all the motion sensors would go off and the lights would come back on," says Mr. Dyer, who was intimately involved in lighting decisions from the start. "The biggest challenge was getting everything co-ordinated and functioning properly. There was a period where the lights would suddenly go off or dim during a meeting because they were being driven by the complexity of the computer program. We've largely eliminated those problems now and are very pleased with the results."
While conservation measures such as energy efficient lighting and turning off unnecessary illumination are second nature for Canada's Greenest Employers, some companies go above and beyond. The Corus building, which opened in 2010, was originally designed to have traditional fluorescent lighting, but the company felt that wasn't in line with the green story they wanted.
After evaluating options here and in the United States, they chose Fifth Light Technology, a small company based in Oakville, Ont., to provide dimmable, energy efficient fluorescent lighting controls. Features include daylight harvesting sensors that automatically adjust light levels to take advantage of sunlight, the ability to control the building's 4,670 lights by schedule and to turn lights on and off in rooms where they're not needed.
Workers sitting at their desks can individually adjust lighting by accessing a program through the phone system which allows them to control the lights around them – a feature that has significantly improved employee satisfaction.
"The overall Fifth Light approach was to give every single light in the building a separate address and provide a central computer which commands how bright each light should be at any time," Mr. Dyer explains. "On an almost instantaneous basis, you can set any light in the building to be any level of brightness or dimness."
Although switching from a traditional system to Fifth Light involved significant redesign and work, Mr. Dyer estimates that in the end, the system was only marginally more expensive than it would have been. He's also confident the system has cut electrical consumption for lighting by about 50 per cent of what it would have been with a traditional system and that whatever extra they've spent has already been recovered. While natural light is an important factor, he attributes a substantial portion of the energy savings to the lights' dimming abilities.
"In traditional office buildings, the fluorescents are on at 100 per cent or they're off," Mr. Dyer says. "Often we're at 50 per cent or less and that's where your savings come from. If you turn down the amount of brightness being driven through the fixture, you're reducing the amount of electricity being used, and you get your savings."
So could this system work in a more traditional office building? Mr. Dryer suggests that it's worthwhile for companies to investigate.
"Ninety per cent of our building is a traditional building," Mr. Dyer says. "Most of our staff work at desks just like people in a bank. This system is certainly available to be used in traditional office buildings."
The City of Ottawa has also achieved major energy savings through its recent conversion of 33 per cent of its traffic signals to LED lighting technology. According to Maria McRae, City of Ottawa councillor and chairwoman of the city's new environment committee, the LED lights are proving to be very reliable and have decreased service calls for burned-out signal displays because of the bulbs' long life – estimated at between five to seven years.
"We know that every year, we conserve an unbelievable 80 to 85 per cent of our energy consumption by having an LED traffic light display compared to a regular traffic light," Ms. McRae says. "Our return on investment is about five years. The only issue is that the total cost to have all our signal lights changed is $4-million (for another 800 lights), so whether we can do that ultimately depends on our budgets."
Before the conversion, there were also concerns over brightness. "It's one thing to conserve energy and save money, but is it safe?" Ms. McRae explains. "But the LEDs are very clear and sharp. As a driver, I personally find there's more contrast with these lights, especially at night."
Another concern was the snow in Ottawa. LED lights are cool, literally, so the snow buildup on them wouldn't melt.
"Before we went live with this, we tried it as a pilot," Ms. McRae. "By angling the shield over the light, snow can fall off it so you're not relying on heat buildup to melt it like the old ones. It was a very good decision for us. I urge other municipalities to give it a try but do a pilot to make sure it works for your city."
A 2010 LED retrofit for the Thirsty Moose Pub at the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George turned out to be a cool decision as well, solving its problem of frequently burned-out bulbs.
"With about 70 lights in the pub, not only was changing them time consuming, but it was fairly expensive," says Matt Rourke, general manager, UNBC Northern Undergraduate Student Society. "The cost to replace the bulbs wasn't too much and it reduced our electrical consumption for lighting by 85 per cent. They work perfectly with our dimmers, so we're still able to adjust them. I don't think the customers have noticed that they've been switched."