By Elliot Hoffman, President, CEO, REV

One story that I often tell is about shades versus lights. It goes like this:

I arrived at the UC Irvine campus in Orange County at around 8:30AM on a bright sunny Thursday in mid-June. I was looking forward to seeing the 18 people from the 9 companies and organizations who would attend session number five of a REV Sustainability Circle.

Since I had opened the Circle four months earlier, I already knew some of the participants and I was delighted to be reconnecting with them.

Look Up

As has become my habit, I instinctively looked up as I entered the six-story building. Sure enough, all the lights were on even with the sun blazing through the large plate glass windows. I also noticed that the place was virtually empty. All the lights were on and almost no one was there.

I have grown to expect to see the “lights on, sun shining, no people” in virtually every city and every state I visit—even in green buildings where you’d expect the occupants to know better. However, it still amazes me.

I got off the elevator on the 3rd floor and, as I walked into the assigned room where the Circle session was about to begin, I found that all the lights were on and the shades were drawn closed. It was 9AM.


The first curriculum module of the day was—you guessed it—lighting. Our local lighting expert walked in the room and introduced herself as Stacy Hoffman (no relation to yours truly). She puts down her bag of lighting tricks and toys and immediately said to the group, “I love lighting and can be quite wonkish about it. Please stop me at any time and I’ll clarify anything you don’t understand.”

Then she made a brief comment that brought a huge smile to my face. “You may think I’m crazy, but the first thing I do when I walk into a room is to look up. Are the lights on, is the sun shining?” I knew Stacy and I had the same last name for some reason. I decided not to say a word yet. Just listen.

How Much Light Do We Need?

About 30 minutes into her presentation, someone asked a very simple question. “How much light do we need to do our work comfortably in a commercial space?” Stacy replied, “About 35 lumens.”

Then a participant asked Stacy, “How much light is in this room?” What a great, simple question. Now I’m getting ready to make my move. Stacy responded, “Let’s see. I have my light meter right here.” She whips out her meter and announces the reading—37 lumens.

It was time for me to leap out of my seat and ask the question I had been holding back on.

“Stacy,” I requested “Would you do me a small favor and open the shades, turn off the lights, and take another reading?” Two participants ran to open the shades and turn off the lights. The meter jumped to 47 lumens. Already nearly 30% higher with no artificial lights on and the shades open.

I immediately noticed that the large plate glass windows were utterly filthy—like they’ve not been washed in a year or more. I asked Stacy if the windows were clean, how much more light would come though. She responded that the meter would likely read at least 55 lumens—another 10-20% more light just by cleaning the windows.

Open the Shades, Wash the Windows, and Turn Off the Lights

Feeling like I had just hit a home run, I confirmed with Stacy and the Circle group, “So you are telling us that by opening the shades, washing the windows and turning off the lights, we would not only save 100% of the energy and the cost needed to light this room, we would have better lighting.” Stacy smiled and affirmed, “You bet.”

This “ah ha” moment for everyone in the Circle was palpable. In an instant, this simple experience that took about 10 minutes had a real impact on all of us. I cannot tell you for sure that the future behavior of everyone there was changed forever, but I can guarantee you that the behavior of some of the people in that room did surely change.

Behavior Change

This is a wonderful example of why we at REV have a deeply held belief that changing our behavior is the key to so many of our energy, water, waste, climate and sustainability challenges. And a key to saving your organization money.

Changing our light bulbs is certainly important. LED lighting is far superior in many ways to old modes of providing light. However, if the sun is shining and you live and/or work in a commercial building, I’ll bet you a delicious NY Cheesecake (I ran a well-known bakery in San Francisco for many years where we made incredibly good NY Cheesecakes) that 40-50% of the lights are on right now with many of the shades drawn closed.

So, if we are interested in eliminating wasted energy, wasted water, and wasted money, we need to open our eyes and open our minds and take the time to think about how we can do what we need to get done without wasting our precious resources. Imagine all of us waking up to the reality that we can save enormous resources if we simply change our behavior.