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The LED Paradox: How Light Pollution Challenges Experts to Reconsider Sustainable Lighting

Schulte-Römer, Nona; Meier, Josiane; Söding, Max; Dannemann, Etta

FG Stadt- und Regionalökonomie

In the 21st century, the notion of “sustainable lighting” is closely associated with LED technology. In the past ten years, municipalities and private light users worldwide have installed light-emitting diodes in urban spaces and public streets to save energy. Yet an increasing body of interdisciplinary research suggests that supposedly sustainable LED installations are in fact unsustainable, because they increase light pollution. Paradoxically, blue-rich cool-white LED lighting, which is the most energy-efficient, also appears to be the most ecologically unfriendly. Biologists, physicians and ecologists warn that blue-rich LED light disturbs the circadian day-and-night rhythm of living organisms, including humans, with potential negative health effects on individual species and whole ecosystems. Can the paradox be solved? This paper explores this question based on our transdisciplinary research project Light Pollution—A Global Discussion. It reveals how light pollution experts and lighting professionals see the challenges and potential of LED lighting from their different viewpoints. This expert feedback shows that “sustainable LED lighting” goes far beyond energy efficiency as it raises complex design issues that imply stakeholder negotiation. It also suggests that the LED paradox may be solved in context, but hardly in principle.