Campus Illumination: An Implementation Strategy for Sustainable Exterior Lighting

Executive Summary:

The Campus Illumination team proposes the creation of an actionable roadmap for improving the energy efficiency and comprehensive sustainability of campus-wide exterior lighting at the University of Washington Seattle Campus (UW). This roadmap will be the product of a multi-disciplinary effort through which students will collaborate with experts from both on and off campus to collect data regarding existing lighting conditions and to delineate lighting guidelines for future campus development. The Campus Illumination roadmap aspires to:

  • Consolidate the design, technical, and operations expertise of various campus and off-campus entities in order to streamline and enrich the transition toward sustainable campus lighting
  • Serve as an actionable tool for implementing campus lighting with a more comprehensive vision of sustainability
  • Provide hands-on, applied learning experience for students to carry out the goals of the UW Climate Action Plan
  • To develop a tool for updating GIS databases in the field for immediate and accurate campus data

Exterior lighting constitutes a significant share of overall campus energy consumption and current lighting conditions at UW exhibit a fragmented legacy of light fixtures, presenting an opportunity for measurably reducing electrical loads. Yet it is critical to not simply take a one-for-one fixture replacement approach, but rather to adopt a holistic definition of sustainability that takes into account human experience, maintainability, and dark sky measures alongside energy efficiency. This project will produce an essential tool for the UW community by instituting best-practice measures for sustainable lighting across campus, in order to streamline and optimize the transition from inefficient fixtures to a sustainable nighttime campus environment.

With a definition of sustainability that encompasses campus experience and feasibility over the long term, this roadmap is an invaluable addition to the campus infrastructure in coordinating and catalyzing new low-energy lighting. The roadmap will be the result of extensive student-led data collection and collaboration with lighting design professionals and campus offices. The document will:

  1. Deliver design guidelines for exterior lighting within specific campus typologies. Using the Campus Landscape Framework, the team will identify the needs and qualities of distinct campus spaces—such as residential landscapes, urban frontage, and parking lots—to establish context-specific guidelines. This strategy ensures that lighting needs are tuned to achieve maximum efficiency while responding to site needs and uses.
  2. Articulate an overall vision as to how these spaces transition and relate to each other in order to enhance the legibility and navigability of the nighttime campus.
  3. Delineate an implementation strategy that identifies areas with the most significant opportunities for energy reduction and environmental amelioration. This guide will be used as a reference to inform the retrofitting and replacement efforts of Campus Engineering, to coordinate the lighting design of new campus development, and as an educational tool for the wider campus community.

This project is asking for $71,601.06 to support the students and outside experts involved in orchestrating this cross-disciplinary and trans-institutional effort. Funding will primarily support student leaders in coordinating the data collection and analysis, producing a report, and refining and publishing the ultimate roadmap. Funding will also support the creation and implementation of signage that will engage the wider UW community. Guidance from faculty and the development of an application for updating lighting data in the field will be supported entirely in kind.

Student Involvement:

Campus Illumination will be coordinated by a Graduate Student Research Assistant from the Department of Landscape Architecture, who will work with the project partners to oversee data collection and analysis, facilitate design visioning, and ultimately produce the final roadmap deliverable.

An application for updating GIS data in the field will be developed by a Geography student to be used for quantitative data collection. A student intern employed by the Integrated Design Lab (IDL) during the summer quarter will implement this application to collect data regarding existing campus fixtures to update the GIS database.

The data set collected for this project will be enriched with additional assessment performed by students enrolled in the Architecture 435 Environmental Lighting course in Autumn 2016 and IDL student employees. These students, primarily from departments within the College of Built Environments, will have an opportunity for hands-on applied learning to identify key opportunities for enhancing the campus experience through exterior lighting. The students will engage with experts from within and outside of the University to develop a rich understanding of environmental lighting practices. In addition to external and faculty expertise, the students will have a unique opportunity to communicate with the UW administrative offices that develop and maintain the campus. This interaction sparks a larger inter-university conversation in which students and staff can collaborate to envision a more sustainable future for the campus.


Funding will largely support a Graduate Student Research Position to administer the project throughout its duration. This tuition-exempt position will enrich the project by ensuring the utmost commitment of the student leader and ensure the degree of investment necessary for the roadmap to achieve its highest possible impact on campus sustainability. Students from the College of Built Environments will be employed by the Integrated Design Lab (IDL) to assist with the implementation and analysis of data collection, providing applied learning experiences on campus in addition to valuable work experience in the IDL’s off-campus Bullitt Center office. The creation of the roadmap will be supported by generous in-kind donations of faculty and staff time.



The project will be administered in three consecutive phases, starting immediately after funding and culminating in the Spring Quarter of 2017:


Phase 1: Building a foundation (Spring-Summer 2016)

The first phase is primarily concerned with data collection to serve as a concrete basis upon which the ultimate design guidelines will be constructed. A graduate student from the Geography department will create an application with which data regarding existing campus light fixtures will be added to the GIS database in the field. Student interns employed by the UW Integrated Design Lab (IDL), will collect data to update exterior lighting information across campus including wattage, controller type, and fixture images. This GIS data will create a portrait of campus lighting conditions that will be indispensible toward creating actionable guidelines, and will also be a valuable tool that is publicly available for research and other planning pursuits.

The data collection phase includes a public survey to gain a sense of the larger community’s current attitudes toward campus lighting techniques. This information will be used to inform design decisions, and to gauge how the campus community perceives current lighting strategies. Community feedback will allow the team to assess how new lighting technology on campus relates to human experience, and how energy-efficient lighting can be implemented in a manner that enriches the campus experience.

Phase 2: Exploring possibilities (Autumn 2016)

The second phase will contribute further detail to the exterior dataset by exploring campus lighting with a more qualitative lens. Students enrolled in ARCH435: Principles and Practice of Environmental Lighting, adapted in response to this project, will assess strategic regions of campus (see Appendices 1&2) to investigate lighting strategies, and use technical tools to measure lighting fixtures. The students will have the unique opportunity to engage with professionals from the Lighting Design Lab, guest lecturers with expertise in exterior lighting, and campus staff involved in lighting the campus. Students will build a knowledge base of low-energy lighting technology and combine that with lighting design concepts to generate potential campus lighting strategies that will be sustainable in the long term.

Phase 3: Creating a roadmap (Winter-Spring 2017)

The final phase of the project entails a synthesis of the data collected and design visions created in phases one and two. The graduate student lead will work with professional partners to translate the student efforts into a deliverable that contains actionable design guidelines and an implementation plan. This roadmap will be a tangible tool that will be used by UW staff to move toward deeply sustainable lighting practices that significantly reduce energy consumption while enhancing the nighttime campus experience. This roadmap will also be a publicly available educational tool that will serve as a valuable resource for exterior lighting concerns and for illustrating the role exterior lighting plays in sustainability. This tool will streamline the partnership between Seattle City Light and the University in delivering lighting incentives and focus the efforts of Electrical Engineering and the Office of the University Architect in working toward a comprehensive approach to exterior lighting sustainability. 

Education & Outreach:

This project engages the community from the outset by performing a survey that gathers attitudes regarding nighttime lighting conditions on campus. By incorporating community input into the final roadmap deliverable, the project ensures that “sustainable exterior lighting” encompasses the experience of the campus community at large. In addition to the survey, signage will be displayed near certain fixtures across campus during the initial stages of the project. This signage will include graphics related to outdoor lighting energy consumption, as well as information for accessing the survey. This intervention will spread awareness of the project throughout the UW community, giving the project momentum and increasing public recognition of the role campus lighting plays in overall UW sustainability.

The GIS dataset that will be compiled in phase one of the project will become a tool for public use in researching the campus. GIS software is widely used across campus, both in the classroom and for planning purposes, and more robust data regarding lighting will enhance public knowledge about exterior lighting energy consumption.

Additionally, this project will serve as a catalyst for collaboration between various campus offices, moving the University toward a more integrated approach to campus sustainability. It will merge the efforts of the Office of the University Architect to improve the experiential qualities of campus, Campus Engineering and Operations’ work in updating, controlling, and maintaining campus lighting, and the UWPD’s objective of ensuring that campus users feels safe and secure. This project will develop a strategy that integrates all of these goals rather than addressing them as separate programs. The roadmap enacts a model of inter-departmental and inter-institutional collaboration that is critical for realizing sustainable interventions efficiently and effectively.

Environmental Impact:
  • Energy Use
  • Living Systems and Biodiversity
Project Longevity:

The value of the roadmap lies in its capacity to operate far beyond the project’s completion. The roadmap project stems from the expressed interest of the Office of the University Architect, Campus Electrical Engineering, and Seattle City Light, who will use it as a tool for retrofitting and replacing existing fixtures. The roadmap will also lend guidance toward future campus development in line with the Campus Landscape Framework so that campus projects will be designed with a vision toward overall campus efficiency, legibility and navigability. These guidelines will prioritize maintainability as a critical component of sustainability, and will strive to improve maintenance efficiency and ease for campus staff. This will be achieved by close collaboration with campus staff during the creation of the guidelines. Furthermore, this tool will streamline the partnership between Seattle City Light and the University in delivering lighting incentives. The Campus Illumination roadmap will be developed with a vision for the short-term future by catalyzing immediate projects for more efficient and environmentally sensitive lighting, and the long-term future by ensuring that sustainable lighting is an integral and thoughtfully considered component of future campus development.

Environmental Problem:

This project addresses the UW’s potential to significantly reduce its electrical consumption through the successful implementation of high-efficiency lighting technology with sensitivity to lighting needs across campus. Lighting comprises roughly 35% of overall electrical consumption at the UW,[1] with exterior lighting constituting a significant share of this load. The project team envisions a campus with a 40% reduction in lighting power as a result of the implementation of the design guidelines in the roadmap. Our project will provide clearer knowledge of exterior lighting’s role in overall energy consumption, and will be used to implement high-performance lighting at the campus-wide scale.

Though the simple replacement of high-pressure sodium (HPS) fixtures with light-emitting diode (LED) technology will inevitably result in somewhat decreased electrical loads, such an approach fails to capitalize on potentially much greater energy reductions. For instance, a recent study[2] on the UW campus indicates that improved visibility and perception of security can be realized at lower power densities using LEDs. Current parking lot recommendations are based only on photopic illuminance, an objective measurement of light level, without considering the color spectrum of the light source. Since bluer-spectrum light improves scotopic (nighttime) vision, outdoor scenes illuminated by bluer light are perceived as brighter. As such, LED lights—which have higher color temperatures than conventional HPS—can actually operate with much lower power densities without sacrificing perceived safety and security. Indeed, to be judged equally bright, measured LED illuminance is predicted to be 54% of measured HPS illuminance.[3]

Our proposed roadmap will translate these research efforts into action by providing a tool for the campus to implement low-energy lighting technology at its highest possible efficiency. In addition to parking lots, specific campus locations—such as residential areas and formal plazas—have different lighting needs. The proposed roadmap will outline strategies for each of these contexts to achieve maximum energy savings while creating the ideal nighttime environment across campus.

Furthermore, outdoor lighting can significantly influence the patterns of wildlife within and above campus. Unshielded exterior lighting can render terrestrial and aquatic habitats vulnerable to predation and can disrupt circadian wildlife patterns, leading to decreased biodiversity. Dark-sky measures such as full cut off optics (FCOs), back light shielding, and low-illumination accent lighting are critical to creating a campus environment more sensitive to the patterns and needs of local ecology. The roadmap will incorporate such measures into its guidelines so that the UW definition of sustainable lighting comprises not only energy efficiency, but also responds to its wider influence on the environment.

The GIS database of campus lighting that is updated and expanded by the project team will function beyond the bounds of the project timeline by providing a tool for measuring the impact of the exterior lighting measures set forward by the roadmap. As the database continues to be updated following the implementation of the roadmap, the project team, campus operations, and the larger community will be able to access and interpret the resultant energy savings.


[1] “The Source of Our Power.” UW Capital Planning and Development.

[2] Rea MS, Bullough JD, Brons JA. 2015. “Outdoor lighting based upon predictions of scene brightness and of personal safety.” Lighting Research Center, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

[3] Rea MS. 2013. Value Metrics for Better Lighting. Bellingham, WA: SPIE Press.


Explain how the impacts will be measured:

The GIS database of campus lighting that is updated and expanded by the project team will function beyond the bounds of the project timeline by providing a tool for measuring the impact of the exterior lighting measures set forward by the roadmap. As the database—including wattage information—continues to be updated following the implementation of the roadmap, the project team, campus operations, and the larger community will be able to access and interpret the resultant energy savings. 

Total amount requested from the CSF: $71,601
This funding request is a: Grant
If this is a loan, what is the estimated payback period?:


ItemCost per ItemQuantityTotal Cost
RA - Landscape Arch. Salary$2,031 per month12 monhts$24,372.00
RA - Landscape Arch. Benefits$359 per month12 months$4,038.00
RA - Landscape Arch. Tuition$5,159 per quarter4 quarters$ 20,636.00
Lighting Design Lab (LDL) Technical Input$122.13 per hour162 hours$19,785.06
Materials (Signage, printing costs, etc.)$2,500.00

Non-CSF Sources:

Field Solution DevelopmentGeography student employee, Facilities ServicesIn-kind donationGIS application developed by Geography student
Technical InputLighting Design LabIn-kind donationAdditional hours, equipment use, etc
50% Student Intern, summer quarterIntegrated Design LabIn-kind donation
25% Student Intern, 2016-2017 academic yearIntegrated Design LabIn-kind donation
Seattle City Light Conservation ResourcesSeattle City LightIn-kind donationIncentives for implementation
Professional staff timeOffice of University ArchitectIn-kind donationDesign guidance
Faculty timeIntegrated Design Lab / College of Built EnvironmentsIn-kind donationTechnical input, Arch 435 course
Project Completion Total: $71,601


PhaseTaskTimeframeEstimated Completion Date
1Development of online tool for on-site GIS data collection3 monthsMay 2016
1Signage design and implementation2 monthsMay 2016
1Survey design and distribution2 monthsJune 2016
1Evaluate survey data1 weekJune 2016
1GIS data colection3-4 monthsOctober 2016
2Environmental Lighting course3 monthsDecember 2016
2Qualitative assessment of campus typologies2 monthsNovember 2016
2Measurement and analysis of lighting conditions2 monthsNovember 2016
2Design guideline visioning3 weeksDecember 2016
3Roadmap development4 monthsMarch 2017
3Roadmap production and distribution3 monthsJune 2017