A seagull flies above an ice covered lake at sunrise near Madison, WI

Human Centric Lighting…or Profit Centric Lighting?

Human Centric Lighting (HCL) is a nebulous term quickly replacing Circadian Lighting as the go-to language for describing lighting strategies intended to improve our lives. The more expansive idea behind HCL is that it includes circadian rhythm science but also accounts for moment-to-moment human wellness, comfort, and needs.

Human Centric Lighting sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

Recently our team was discussing light and health and how to best help our clients get the most out of lighting.  We discussed HCL and were hit in the face with a blinding question:

What the heck is our lighting if it isn’t human-centric?

What is it centered upon if not us, the beneficiaries?

If HCL is a new option we can choose, what are our other choices?

So far we’ve come up with two possibilities: PCL and NCL.

Uh oh, more acronyms?!


In the beginning, humanity had Nature Centric Lighting, or NCL.  The sun came up, the sun went down, the moon came up, the moon went down, stars shone, lightning flashed.  Light didn’t revolve around us, we revolved around light…and quite literally so.

Fire was followed by oil and then by gas and finally by electricity as we shifted away from Nature Centric Lighting to something we could control.  All of this was human centric, but not in the same way we define it today.

We mastered fire for own benefit.  We hunted whales to light our lamps with their oil for our own benefit.  We burn coal and gas and fill our homes with electric light for our own benefit.  This entire industry is human-centric.

And that is why HCL becomes a strange term.  What light, besides the sun, is NOT human centric?  That which is motivated by profit before humans.


Profit Centric Lighting, or PCL, is what most of us live with today.  We buy whatever light bulbs or light fixtures the stores sell us. The stores pick what to sell based on how that fixture will profit their bottom lines, not on how it will profit our lives.

Even fine custom homes wind up more often than not with PCL.  Architectural lighting- our realm that includes recessed downlights, step lights, linear lights, etc.- is cheapened and commoditized so the providers and installers can maximize profit.  Decorative lighting- chandeliers, pendants, sconces, lamps- are sold based on design trends that often have more to do with brass versus nickel and less with whether or not the light emanating from the fixture will do what it should.

Our wellness depends on Human Centric Lighting that puts Nature Centric Lighting back in our lives. We need Human Centric Lighting that incorporates our needs before profits (though profits are still important).

So is HCL the answer? 

Kind of.  Human Centric Lighting is where we should have always been and where we should be now.  The trick is to define Human Centric Lighting.

Buying a “blue-free” light bulb to help your sleep may sound like a human-centric move, but many products are really profit-motivated ideas masquerading as human centric.

We spend a lot of time reading the research abstracts and learning about how our bodies and minds interact with light.  We deeply believe that light can help us live happier and healthier lives- heck, it’s the name of our business.   But we also see a lot of products and ideas out there using HCL as a marketing strategy with rather dubious science.

It reminds of me of doctors practicing bleeding or lobotomies at the same time others are perfecting penicillin and organ transplants.  It is undeniable that science and knowledge are helping us. And it is equally undeniable that pseudo-science and incomplete knowledge are hurting us.


I have a proposal to make, another annoying acronym to coin: HNCL(4p).  Whew.  That is NEVER going to catch on.

HNCL(4p) stands for Human-Nature Centric Lighting (for profit).

Human-Nature Centric Lighting (HNCL) should reconnect us to natural light while providing the positive benefits of artificial light.  HNCL should leverage all of our best science and technology to help us live better lives.

(4p) acknowledges that in our economic system profit is required to make the thing work.  So let’s pay our manufacturers and distributors and installers enough money to make HNCL(4p) worth their time and energy.  Let’s invest in architectural and decorative fixtures that look great, install easily, last a long time, and actually deliver light the way we need it.

It sounds simple, but I am proposing nothing less than a revolution.

I feel better now; I always do when I vent a little about the profit-centric lighting industry that sells us PCL and uses HCL to sell us more lighting.  That can make our job a lot harder, because we get lumped in with the snake-oil sellers that sold us the miracle blue-light-free bulb.

That’s why we need HNCL(4p). Human-Nature Centric Lighting (for profit).

That much is clear.

How we survive the creation of another acronym is not.

Light Can Help You