My Interview with Jay Goodman: 'Land of the Lost Opportunity'

An interview with Jay Goodman, founder of LumenOptix and change agent for the digital lighting revolution, reveals missed opportunities in today’s lighting upgrade market 

Jay Goodman is mad as hell and doesn’t want to take it anymore.

That’s the way the founder ofLumenOptix,  a leading designer and manufacturer of architectural lighting solutions for the built environment,  feels about the lighting industry’s missed opportunities to promote energy-efficient lighting upgrades to a marketplace in need.  During LIGHTFAIR 2013 in Philadelphia, we sat down with the 25-year lighting industry veteran and entrepreneur to discuss today’s market for lighting upgrades and where he believes the industry could strengthen its approach in order to benefit from a dramatically larger potential market that can also deliver enhanced margins and greater asset utilization. 

ER:  So Jay, what’s your beef with the lighting industry?

Goodman:  Actually, I love this industry and have been an active player in it since the late 1980s. I’ve been nearly everything – a Rep, a Distributor, an ESCO, and now a lighting designer and manufacturer.  That’s why it continues to perplex me when I see end users relying on unqualified parties specifying fixtures for lighting upgrades and the subsequent poor lighting choices and implementations that often result.  When you first construct a building, a qualified specifying engineer or lighting designer helps choose the lighting, but once a building is built, there’s no protocol in place requiring that the end user turn back to them for guidance on the best upgrade product for the application. In other words, once you’re dealing with the “already-built” environment, it almost becomes the wild west.  Many end users don’t even know that qualified providers are out there and often end up listening to the wrong people, which can result in less-than-optimal product installations and a lighting experience that fails to meet its full potential in terms of lighting quality, environmental impact, or energy savings/financial benefits.  Sadly, so many people fail to realize that much of the overall experience in a space -- whether in an office, boardroom, retail store, restaurant, etc. -- is dictated by how it’s lit.

ER:  Throughout your career, you’ve always been a strong champion of energy-efficient lighting upgrades…

Goodman:  We all know the impact that good lighting can have in terms of increased productivity, comfort, and satisfaction as well as improved retail sales.  Yet lighting upgrade decisions for the already-built environment are often relegated to just about anyone, regardless of their qualifications or certification.  Anyone with a copy of a photometric program like AGI32 or Virtual can represent themselves as a lighting expert, no matter what their actual qualifications are.  This is why it kills me to even refer to qualified lighting upgrades as “retrofits” – maybe instead, we should call them “architectural upgrades for the built environment.” 

Jay_Goodman_Lightfair_2013_2.jpgER:   How does it work now and how could it work better?

Goodman:  Many other industries demand that a certain protocol be followed for upgrades.  For instance, if you needed a new HVAC system or an upgrade to an existing system, you’d go to a licensed HVAC specialist; nobody would buy an HVAC system from someone who didn’t have some kind of qualification or certification in that specialty.  But many times the lighting industry and, in some cases, utility companies who are incentivizing efficiency measures, allow nearly anyone to be hired to recommend and install retrofit products.  Though we have many qualified lighting specifiers, electrical contractors, distributors, and agents out there who could identify and install the right package of products, anyone with a business card and a computer today can specify retrofit products to an unsuspecting end user.  This happens more than you think, especially when end users get influenced by price or swayed by utility-driven payback or “free” packages over quality or total cost of ownership considerations. 

ER:   Do you think this reflects that the lighting industry has done a poor job of selling itself?

Goodman:   In many ways I feel it does.  We have so much talent in this industry and so many knowledgeable providers who could be matching up end users with solutions that not only optimize energy savings but also improve the overall aesthetic of the environment by adhering to proper lighting methodology.  By not enforcing that retrofit decisions be guided by accredited professionals, we’ve often ended up with misapplications, less-than-ideal choices, or sometimes outright lighting disasters, which doesn’t benefit the industry’s credibility or the end user’s objective whatsoever.  As an industry, we haven’t collectively stressed the importance of good and appropriate lighting or the value that qualified providers bring to the table.  As a result, many lighting upgrades are driven by utility incentives with an eye on consumption and operating cost as the primary driver and the actual “lighting” as a secondary concern or even an afterthought.  Some of the poorest lighting installations I’ve seen typically come when lighting is addressed by those responsible for the end user’s energy spend or utility costs, because they address lighting strictly from a consumption perspective; in these cases, all aspects of proper lighting can get thrown out the window in an effort to shorten payback and obtain the lowest “out of pocket” cost in conjunction with a utility rebate, which can result in compromised lighting choices.

ER:   How might we fix this as an industry?

Goodman:   I’d love to see our community of specifiers and consulting engineers engage more directly with the end users who own the installed lighting base.  Last year, the lighting industry was valued at $9 billion, but the installed base of fixtures awaiting an upgrade was estimated at $100 billion, so the opportunity to grow the business and support this underserved market is huge and incredible!

ER:   How would we do this?

Goodman:   I think it begins with an understanding of the fact that end users need specifiers, consulting engineers, agents, and qualified lighting professionals in general, but they just don’t know that they need them.   It would be great if the specification community could market themselves more aggressively to end users or even collectively lobby utility companies to require some type of qualified stamp of approval for a retrofit project -- something that requires the lighting to be “approved” in order for the utility incentive to be granted.  Prescriptive utility incentives can be at odds at times because their requirements are typically based on how many lamps a fixture has or how much wattage it consumes -- rarely is an incentive based first and foremost on achieving proper footcandles and ratios (vertical and horizontal) and then energy consumption second.  Even our government understood the need to require a qualified individual to certify a project before the end user secured an EPAct (179D) tax advantage on a project. There’s been no shortage of end users enjoying the EPAct benefit, so requiring a qualified individual or entity to certify a project as “undertaken properly” isn’t all that onerous. Utilities and end users need to understand that lighting shouldn’t be viewed purely as a consumption issue, one where the lowest consumption wins the job, but rather that everything someone sees or feels in a facility, retail store, hotel, etc. is a function of reflected light.  And it’s our job as an industry to promote these messages and drive this understanding.

ER:   How might we achieve this within the framework of our existing industry?

Goodman:   While there are many outstanding organizations like the National Lighting Bureau (www.nlb.org) or International Association of Lighting Designers (www.IALD.org), we all need to work as an industry to push for lighting to be viewed as “lighting” again.  Whether it’s an engineer, a specifier, or an agent, there needs to be a qualified lighting professional in the value chain when it comes to upgrading the already-built environment.  It might require a big campaign to educate the marketplace on their best lighting practices and providers; I would be happy to lead something like that because I believe that everyone – manufacturers, channel members, and end users – could benefit from the greater reconciliation of the supply of high-quality, energy-saving lighting products with the demand for them.  We have to somehow find a way to let the public know that qualified providers exist so that they can reach out to them when it comes time to upgrade – for the benefit of all parties involved.  It’s time that efficient lighting upgrades for the “built environment” came out of the dark and became an officially-recognized and critically-valued segment of the lighting industry.