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A Brighter Future:

lluminating Penn States Campus with LED Lights


Betsy Miller
ENGL 138T

9 April 2015
Topic: The positive impact of LED lights on sustainability.
Audience: The Penn State Administration.
Purpose: To convince the Administration to implement LED lights on Penn States
University Park campus.
Format: A speech given at State of State, the annual conference where speakers
discuss a variety of topics regarding the present and future of Penn State.

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From lamps on desks to fixtures in ceilings to high bays in parking garages, light bulbs
provide the key to the visual world where the Sun doesnt shine. Since its first introduction into
society by Thomas Edison, the light bulb has evolved to become one of the most integral
technologies of daily life. It has also become one of the most taken for granted and
underestimated. With the simple flip of a switch, people may be lighting up a room, but they are
also using an exponential amount of energy and releasing carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
The actions of one individual are not significant, but the collective use of lights has a negative
impact on the environment, especially at an institution the size of Penn State. With over 900
buildings and 45,000 students, University Park boasts a large carbon footprint because of its
incessant devouring of energy. Its size and population, however, give Penn State the potential to
make a considerable difference by changing its lights to LED technology. First and foremost,
Penn State should retrofit to LED lights in order to benefit the environment by reducing energy
consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The University should also revolutionize its lights in
order to improve its reputation and economic standing while making the campus a better place
for students, thereby satisfying Penn States desire to improve our community and our world.
In comparison to its traditional incandescent and fluorescent counterparts, LED lights are
significantly more beneficial for the environment and for Penn States commitment to
sustainability. The greatest asset of LED technology is its energy efficiency. According to the
U.S. Department of Energy, LEDs use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs. This is partly
due to the fact that LEDs release very little energy as heat, whereas incandescent lights release
over 90% of their energy as heat (LED Lighting). This is also due to the fact that LEDs only
require 12.5 watts of energy, nearly five times less than the 60 watts needed by incandescent
lamps (Life-Cycle). As reported by Independence LED, the company with the most efficient LED

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lighting on the current market, this lower wattage means that an LED bulb saves approximately
1,380 kilowatt hours of energy in a lifetime. Subsequently, there is a significant reduction in
carbon dioxide emissions since one kilowatt hour emits 1.34 pounds of carbon dioxide on
average in the United States. Based on calculations, this means that an LED bulb can save 1,780
pounds of carbon dioxide from entering our atmosphere (Szoradi 2012). That is just one bulb
imagine the potential of thousands.
The energy efficiency of LEDs also means that the LED lights have a significantly longer
lifespan than traditional lights, a characteristic that makes the technology even more
environmentally friendly. The Department of Energy reports that just one LED light bulb equates
to twenty two incandescent light bulbs (Life-cycle). With the significantly longer lifespan, fewer
LEDs are needed and thus fewer LEDs must be produced and used. As a result, fewer resources
must be allotted for the production, packaging, and transportation of LED products, thereby
reducing pollution and waste in the long-term (Philips). With respect to disposal, the Department
of Energy has also published graphs showing significantly lower risks of LEDs over
incandescent lights in terms of hazardous waste, toxicity, and overall impact on air, soil, and
water (Life-cycle). The Environmental Protection Agency has had to implement rules about
disposing incandescent, fluorescent, and halide lights since some contain toxic materials like
mercury, but this is not an issue for LEDs (Mohawk). LEDs evidently hold great potential for
lessening environmental impact and improving the future of our planet.
Penn State has already demonstrated its commitment to sustainable initiatives, and
switching from traditional lighting to LEDs is an ideal way to boost its status further as a green
institution. Each year, the Princeton Review evaluates colleges and universities based on their
environmental practices and policies. A score is designated based on efforts and an overall list is

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then published on the Internet and in college guide books for prospective students to view
(Krier). Penn State is included on the list from 2014, but it is not one of the highest scoring
universities on the Green Honor Roll; however, it has the potential to be (OToole). Some of
Penn States environmental efforts right now include the widespread system for recycling and
composting, the reusable Green2Go containers for phasing out disposable cafeteria boxes, and
the hand dryers that have replaced paper towel dispensers in rest rooms. Changing to LED lights
is a great next step to take since the Princeton Review considers a colleges energy usage and
formal plans for minimizing emissions in its criteria (Krier). Other major universities are actually
starting to create plans for LED retrofits, one example being the University of North Carolina.
The UNC system is similar to Penn States since it has multiple campuses, and it is planning to
retrofit thirteen of them (University of North Carolina). Boston University (LED Lighting
Retrofits) and American University (Case Study) are two other prominent institutions that are
jumping on the bandwagon, citing the vast savings in energy and money as their motivation to do
so. The fact that these major universities are beginning to adopt this technology demonstrates
that LEDs are a worthwhile investment, but the small number of them also shows that there is an
opportunity for Penn State to put its name in headlines. This in turn has the potential to elicit
further interest in students who apply to the university, especially since 60% of participants in the
2015 College Hopes and Worries Survey are considering commitment to environmental issues in
their college decisions (The Princeton Review). The potential boost in reputation and student
appeal means that LEDs would profit not only the environment, but also Penn State itself.
Although retrofitting to LED lights at University Park would be environmentally
beneficial for the world as a whole, it would also be economically beneficial for Penn State
specifically. The energy efficiency of an LED bulb translates not only into a reduction in carbon

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dioxide emissions, but a reduction in electricity bills as well. As of February 2015, energy
consumption charts provided by Penn States Physical Plant showed that the campus consumes
slightly less than three hundred million kilowatt-hours each month (Energy Consumption).
This means that Penn States expenditures on energy are astronomical, but switching to LEDs
would reduce that spending to just a small percentage. A study recently conducted in Malaysia
demonstrated that switching from a fluorescent T8 tube to an LED T8 tube reduced the energy
bill by 64% (Gan). Other studies revealed similar results, as shown in a savings report published
by Independence LED that cited a 71% reduction in electricity costs (Szoradi 2011). This cost
reduction was seen on a more massive scale in 2012 when the installation of approximately forty
nine million LEDs in the United States saved $675 million in annual energy costs (Matulka).
With the hundreds of buildings on the main campus alone, Penn State would undoubtedly see
similar reductions, meaning that the University would have more money to allocate to academics
or student programs.
An apparent drawback to LED lights is the fact that they cost five times more than
fluorescent or incandescent lights, meaning there is a very high upfront cost to installing them;
however, it is critical to consider the long-term. With the energy savings, LED lights ultimately
pay for themselves, although the length of the payback period depends on how often the lights
are used. Usually, the economic benefits are lost if the lights are used for less than six hours a
day, but when they are used 24/7, the economic gains are significant (Gan). Penn State would
benefit from having them since they have so many buildings, parking garages, and streets that
must be lit at all times. On top of the energy savings, LED lights also have lifespans of over
25,000 hours (Matulka). This is nearly twenty five times longer than a traditional light bulb, with
an incandescent bulb clocking in at approximately 1,200 hours (LED Lighting Retrofits). A

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higher life span means less money spent on replacement bulbs and less money spent on labor for
maintaining and replacing them. Retrofitting the entirety of University Park at once would also
be a monstrous sum, but the cost and effort could be alleviated by changing the lights slowly as
renovations are made to different buildings. It is undeniable that LEDs are both economically
favorable and economically feasible, and they are worthy of being incorporated into Penn States
future budget.
The benefits of LED lights extend even further beyond the Universitys finances to
directly impact the students and their educations. Over the past few decades, many studies have
been conducted to find the correlation between lighting and success in the classroom. It turns out
that fluorescent bulbs are to blame for many issues with concentration and work efficiency.
Flickering occurs in fluorescent bulbs and tubes at very high frequencies, with fluctuations
occurring approximately 120 times per second (Lighting Ergonomics). Many people cannot
detect the flickering, but some individuals can and suffer negative consequences as a result.
Long-term clinical studies by the Irlen Institute have shown that people working under
fluorescent lights become stressed and tired more quickly than under what is called Solid State
Lighting, or lights, such as LEDs, that do not flicker. The flickering fluorescents have been
associated with problems related to motivation, attention, and performance (Irlen), as well as
headaches and migraines (Robert). Additional studies have revealed that fluorescent lighting is
particularly detrimental for people with ADHD, ADD, or Autism, and a paper published by
Emily Long from Kansas State University reported an increase in repetitive motions and
agitation under fluorescent bulbs (Long). Today, these mental conditions are more common than
ever, even in college students. If Penn State wants all of its students to excel, then it is apparent
that the necessary action to take is to change the lights to LEDs, which do not flicker the way

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fluorescents do. The environment must be conducive to learning in order for Penn State to
provide a strong education to its students and in order for Penn State students to reciprocate with
innovation and achievements. A better lit classroom could result in an improvement in
productivity and understanding, translating to better exam scores, higher GPAs, and graduating
students who are more equipped for future careers.
If Penn State is truly committed in its mission to be a sustainable and cutting edge
institution where students are able to thrive, then the administration should choose to change the
lights. The multifaceted advantages of LEDs are unrivaled by any other current technology, and
Penn State should recognize and seize the opportunity to become a frontrunner in the sustainable
movement. Any hesitation with regard to cost or implementation should be placated by the
environmental, economical, and academic benefits of LED lights in the long-term. Truly, the
only way to lose with this technology is to not utilize it. A future with LEDs will be undeniably
cleaner, cheaper, and brighter, but each day that passes without replacing the lights equates to
more emissions in the air and more money lost. Now is the time to act. On the desks, in the
ceilings, in the parking garageslets change the lights.

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Works Cited
"Energy Consumption." Office of Physical Plant. Pennsylvania State University, Feb. 2015. Web.
6 Apr. 2015.
Gan, Chin Kim, Ahmad Farid Sapar, Yik Chee Mun, and Kuan Eng Chong. Techno-economic
Analysis of LED Lighting: A Case Study in UTeM's Faculty Building. Thesis. Universiti
Teknikal Malaysia Melaka, 2012. Melaka: Elsevier, 2012. Print.
Irlen, Helen L. Fluorescent Lighting Can Trigger ADD/HD, Dyslexia, and Poor Achievement.
Rep. Irlen Institute International, 2006. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Krier, Jeanne, ed. "The Princeton Review Reports Green Ratings for 861 Colleges for 2015." The
Princeton Review. TPR Education IP Holdings, 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
"LED Lighting Retrofits." Boston University Sustainability. Boston University, 2015. Web. 6
Apr. 2015.
"LED Lighting." Energy.gov. U.S. Department of Energy, 29 July 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Life-Cycle Assessment of Energy and Environmental Impacts of LED Lighting Products. Rep.
U.S. Department of Energy, Apr. 2013. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
"Lighting Ergonomics - Light Flicker." Canadian Centre for Occupational Health & Safety.
Government of Canada, 1 Aug. 2013. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Long, Emily Ann. Classroom Lighting Design for Students with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Thesis. Kansas State University, 2010. Manhattan: Kansas State U, 2010. Print.
Matulka, Rebecca. "Top 8 Things You Didnt Know About LEDs." Energy.gov. U.S. Department
of Energy, 4 June 2013. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Mohawk, Niagara. Final Rule for Hazardous Waste Lamps. Rep. Environmental Protection
Agency, 27 June 2014. Web. 9 Apr. 2015.

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O'Toole, Kristen, ed. The Princeton Review's Guide to 332 Green Colleges. Rep. TPR Education
IP Holdings, LLC, 2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Philips: Environmental Benefits of LED Lamps. Rep. Philips, Oct. 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Robert, Teri. "Migraines at Work? Check the Lighting." Health Central. Remedy Health Media,
2014. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
Szoradi, Charlie. "Independence LED Tube: Grey Energy and NET CO2 Savings."
Independence LED. Independence LED Lighting, 2012. Web. 8 Apr. 2015.
Szoradi, Charlie. "LED Tube Savings Report." Independence LED. Independence LED Lighting,
25 July 2011. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.
"The Princeton Review 2015 College Hopes & Worries Survey Report." The Princeton Review.
Ed. Kristen O'Toole. TPR Education IP Holdings, Mar. 2015. Web. 6 Apr. 2015.