Moving from energy-saving to mindful lighting behaviour in homes

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


Before the phase-out of incandescent lamps in the EU, interior lighting was responsible for approximately 20% of average household electricity use in Sweden. To save energy and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, a major societal goal is to switch from light sources with low lm/W to ones with higher luminous efficacy and to reduce wasteful energy behaviour, while still meeting end user needs. A recurrent recommendation in energy conservation campaigns is to turn off lighting in non-occupied rooms. According to the PremiumLight market survey carried out in 2012 in 12 EU countries, approximately 30% of Swedish residents always turn off the lights when nobody is in the room which was well below average (65%). Why is the figure so low in Sweden? One explanation is habitual behaviour, i.e. when the intended goals of an action are reached, and the behaviour leads to the intended outcomes, the behaviour will probably be automatically repeated in the next similar situation [1]. What are the intended goals guiding this lighting behaviour in home environments? The objective of this paper is to provide a better understanding of the reasons behind the cultural practice among Swedish residents to leave the light on in empty rooms—something to consider in energy conservation campaigns directed at residents.

To investigate the current lighting situation in Swedish homes, a mixed-methods research study was carried out in October-November 2015 in Lund and Malmö, Sweden. A questionnaire was sent to a random sample of 2000 residents drawn by the State Personal Address Registry from the adult population in Lund (18-80 yr); the response rate was 27% (n=536, female 51%). Semi-structured interviews (n=12) were held in parallel. Respondents compared well to the national population in terms of dwelling type. The paper-and-pencil questionnaire (11 pages, 35 questions) was adapted from the PremiumLight market survey (2014) addressing, e.g., reasons for buying a particular lamp technology, lighting behaviour at home, and placement of lamps. The interviews were held in the homes of a sample of 12 volunteers living in multi-dwelling buildings, recruited through personal networks (26-76 yr, female 50%). The interview was guided by the following question: ‘How are luminaires used in homes and what are the residents’ needs and wants with regard to home lighting?’

More than half of the respondents (57%, n=301) reported that they sometimes turn off lights when nobody is in the room, 26% (n=140) always turn off lights, and 17% (n=90) seldom or never turn off lights, which is in line with the PremiumLight survey results.

A qualitative thematic analysis based on the interviews produced five key factors influencing residents’ illumination choices—time, the physical setting, activities, the social situation and individual characteristics. Three are described here as only these are relevant to this paper. The first is the temporal dimension, i.e. time of year or time of day. A female participant, 53 yr, reported that when she comes home during the dark season she turns on luminaires even before taking off her shoes. As the Swedish practice is to remove shoes at the entrance, her behaviour emphasises the importance of lighting: “It creates a feeling of comfort to turn on some of the lights.” Low outdoor illuminance can therefore explain why residents choose not to turn off the light in a room despite no occupancy.

A second factor is linked to individual needs and wants, such as visual comfort, safety, and creating a cosy atmosphere. Avoiding dark spaces was mentioned by several participants and keeping luminaires lit in the windows was a recurring practice. Some people are sensitive to the high contrast between bright and dark areas which can produce visual discomfort. One male participant, 53 yr, and his wife turned on a table lamp in a window “as soon as we come home even if we aren’t in here. It looks so dull when it’s gloomy or dark.” He never leaves lights on when he leaves home, but his wife thinks that “it's cosy when you come home and lights are on.” A male participant, 26 yr, leaves the small lights on in the window most of the time even when he is not at home. "It's because it’s nice when you come home and something is lit. Leaving the big lights on would be a bit too much /.../”. Another reason can be emotional. A male participant, 76 yr, reported a friend’s thrifty practice of turning off all lights in the home except for the one where he was seated. Unlike his friend, this participant wanted more lights on because it made the dwelling more homelike, easier to move around in without having to turn on more lights, and to avoid tumbling.

A third factor involves social needs—the lights are kept on for people outside the home to make visitors feel welcome or to make people outside feel secure. It can be reassuring to know that there are people inside the buildings. The outdoor environment was a reason given by a female participant, 69 yr: “[The window light] in the kitchen is often lit when I’m not at home to give some light outside. There are mostly office spaces facing the yard so in the evenings it’s unlit.”

The interview comments illustrating the temporal, individual and social factors show examples of reasons for leaving the lights on in empty rooms. Light in empty rooms can be meaningful to residents, so a shift in mindset and communication is proposed from ‘energy-saving’ to ‘mindful’ lighting behaviour, which implies being kind to oneself, people and the planet. ‘Mindful’, or being aware, is linked to mindfulness, which is rooted in Buddhist teachings and entails respect for the needs of others and oneself. ‘Sustainable’ lighting behaviour is another option but may be too broad a term; ‘mindful’ sends the message that we have to pay attention to what we need in the present moment, avoid automatic behaviour, and also reflect on the environmental and ethical consequences of our behaviour. In other words, shift from habits to intentional behaviour. Future energy conservation campaigns directed at residents could include ‘turn off the light when it’s not needed’ rather than ‘turn off the light in empty rooms’, because lighting does more than facilitate visual tasks.

[1] K. Klöckner and B. Verplanken, Yesterday’s habits preventing change for tomorrow? The influence of automaticity on environmental behaviour. In L. Steg, A.E. van den Berg and J. I. M. de Groot eds. Environmental Psychology: An Introduction. Chichester: BPS Blackwell, (2013), pp. 197-209.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Psychology


  • Lighting behaviour, Mindful, Residential, Energy-saving
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 2018
Publication categoryResearch
EventBEHAVE 2018: The 5th European Conference on Behaviour and Energy Efficiency - ZHAW Zürcher Hochschule für Angewandte Wissenschaften, Zürich, Switzerland
Duration: 2018 Sep 62018 Dec 7


ConferenceBEHAVE 2018
Internet address