Save on lighting by changing behaviour, upgrading bulbs and controls

Lighting consumes 20% of all energy generated in the UK and is a major cost for SMEs in retail, hospitality and office spaces.

Options for improvement range from simple behavioural changes to complete retrofit of controls and lighting equipment.


  1. Make a plan to improve lighting
  2. Make simple behaviour changes
  3. Create lighting ‘zones’
  4. Switch to T5 and LED bulbs
  5. Install automatic lighting systems
  6. Get finance and support

Make a plan to improve lighting

According to a Carbon Trust report, lighting in retail, hospitality and office spaces can account for up to 50% of an overall electricity bill.

The importance and cost of lighting varies by sector and business type. However, you can save an estimated 80% of this cost.

With high electricity prices, payback times on lighting investments will be faster.

As part of making an overall retrofit plan, start by checking your current lighting system and calculating what you can do.

Use all of the following to assess your current lighting system:

  • the model and lifespan of existing lighting equipment
  • feedback from staff and customers on lighting quality
  • how your lighting interacts with natural light from windows
  • whether a tenant or landlord controls the lighting system

You should decide whether to retrofit lighting as a one-off project or as part of a larger refurbishment.

Do a walk around

Start with a walk around to assess lighting performance at different points in the day.

Ask staff to report any issues.

Check the condition and type of lighting equipment in use.

Submeter your lighting system

Consider installing an electricity submeter that only measures lighting power if you suspect it is a major expense.

Use the submeter measure to work out how much lighting costs and how much you could save.

Submeters should be installed by a professional electrician.

Depending on your electricity and lighting system a basic submeter will cost from £20 to install.

You might find it more useful to wait and install submeters as part of a refurbishment if your lighting system is older and needs significant upgrades.

Make simple behaviour changes

Implement simple behavioural changes to reduce lighting usage and see results quickly.

For low or no cost, you can:

  • remind staff which lights are controllable
  • label light switches with turn off reminders
  • implement a switch-off schedule at the start and end of the day
  • clean windows and light fixtures to maximise brightness
  • repaint walls a lighter colour to reduce lighting demand

Download GOV.UK’s energy saving guide (PDF).

Create lighting ‘zones’

Divide your lighting needs by ‘zone.’ These can be separate rooms or areas of your business used for different purposes.

Different controls and lighting levels can be used in each zone. Make sure staff can override automatic sensors.

Examples of zones include:

  • occupied work areas
  • common areas such as hallways
  • storage rooms or bathrooms

Find out more about zones in commercial buildings on the Designing Buildings website.

Switch to T5 and LED bulbs

Older fluorescent tubes and sodium lights are inefficient. The current standard of T5 fluorescent lights and LEDs will save you energy and money.

T5 lights save up 45% while LEDs save up to 90% compared to older T8 or T12 fluorescent lights.

Use Energy Savings Trust’s lighting guide for an overview on bulbs.

Upfront costs and the payback period depend on your current bulbs, fixtures and the electricity needed to run them.

Use Carbon Trust’s lighting business case tool to check when upgrades pay for themselves.

Install automatic lighting systems

Automated lighting systems have higher upfront costs but can pay back quickly.

You can install automated lights that range from simple fixtures to whole building systems that feed into building efficiency measurement systems.

Options include:

  • occupancy sensors for internal lighting
  • night time sensors for external lighting
  • ‘daylight harvesting’ sensors that dim lights when sunlight is present

Start by changing traditional light switches and fixtures to motion sensor models if an entire workplace system is too expensive.

These start around £10 for a switchplate and £20 for a fixture.

Find out more in the Carbon Trust’s lighting guide.

Get finance and support

You might find it helpful to hire a consultant to plan and redesign your lighting system if your business needs help and has financial resources.

Check our retrofit funding page to find out what financing is available from banks, government schemes and local councils.

Find finance and support for your region.

Check our case studies for examples of other SMEs that have successfully cut their costs and carbon emissions.

Take part in the UK Net Zero Business Census
Take part in the UK Net Zero Business Census