When discussing energy savings, there’s a principle often cited by economists called the Jevons paradox, which postulates that as the use of a resource becomes more efficient, consumption of that resource tends to increase, rather than decrease. The counterintuitive theory’s namesake, 19th century economist William Stanley Jevons, was originally talking about how improvements in coal burning only increased demand for coal, and therefore led to more consumption, but his theory has been applied to many other ironies of life, such as diet foods that make us eat more.
The logic of the Jevons paradox has been debated and debunked by many environmental writers, but the idea resurfaced after the recent installation of more than 700 energy-efficient LED lighting units on the exterior of New York City’s famous Helmsley Building to make the 84-year-old Beaux-Arts-style skyscraper shine at night like never before.
According to The Lighting Practice, the company that made the lighting conversion in December 2012, the new LED lamps made by Lumenpulse use 70 percent less energy than the old high-pressure sodium lights that used to light up the 34-story Park Avenue tower. During the holidays, the computer-controlled lights morphed through a coordinated rainbow of colors and were synched to a violin-music soundtrack. But for most nights, the building has been presented in a series of static, multihued washes.
Last November, The Lighting Practice installed the same type of LED lighting, although to a lesser extent, to the upper floors and spire of the iconic Empire State Building, which now displays a brighter, wider range of colors at night. The Philadelphia-based company has installed efficient exterior and interior lighting in dozens of offices, universities and public buildings nationwide.
One reader of a recent Triple Pundit story on the Helmsley lighting brought up Jevons in the comments section and then asked: “Why in the world does this building need to be totally lit up? Just because it’s ‘efficient lighting’ doesn’t meant it’s sustainably minded.”