Regardless of who takes the reins of government post Saturday’s election, how much it costs to run and future-proof our schools will continue to be the responsibility of Boards of Trustees and their staff.

One way for schools to drastically cut the cost of their power bills is to replace fluorescent lights with LED lights.

Managing director of T8LED, Hamish Coney says lighting costs make up a large portion of a school’s expenses.

“LED bulbs use 50 per cent to 90 per cent LESS electricity than traditional incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. A 40-watt incandescent bulb can be replaced with a 6-watt LED bulb, which will give an equivalent light output,” says Coney.

“We don’t charge anything upfront to retrofit your business with LED bulbs. Once installed, the school or childcare centre, or kindergarten, makes immediate savings on their power bill and they just pay us a monthly amount, which is a lot less than the savings you make.”

LED lighting makes environmental, financial, social and sustainable sense, he says.

“They last for 10 years, where fluorescent lights last just three. As well as being demonstrably cheaper, the light is gentler on the eye and because they last so long the maintenance costs of changing bulbs are eliminated, leaving school caretakers more time to attend to schools’ other needs.”

New Zealand is just now catching up with a worldwide move towards LED lighting, says Coney.

“For example, in the USA, schools have banned any glass in the lighting over food in schools. The LED lighting we use is plastic and every part of it can be recycled. What people don’t realise either is that fluorescent lights have a small amount of mercury in them so are hazardous to dispose of, especially in landfill near water ways.

“If a fluorescent bulb breaks in a classroom, the space should be vacated for at least two hours to ensure any toxicity has gone. Often the cost of recycling florescent bulbs is prohibitive, leaving the bulbs with their mercury to be disposed of incorrectly and resulting in the mercury leaching into our earth and waterways.”

Teachers are doing a great job of educating the next generation about sustainability, as evidenced by programmes such as Enviroschools and the Schoolgen programme.

The Enviroschools programme is now a part of 1000 schools nationwide and supports children and young people to plan, design and implement sustainability actions that are important to them and their communities. Schoolgen is a programme by power company Genesis Energy to show school children across New Zealand how solar energy and energy efficiency works.

The first school to win the top award in the Schoolgen project – a gold award – was Wellington’s Clifton Terrace Model School.

T8LED recently switched nearly 90 fluorescent lights to LEDs as part of Clifton Terrace’s on-going commitment to sustainability. There was an immediate and drastic decrease in the school’s power bill, says Coney.

“The school has recorded a 60 per cent decrease in power bills. Before we replaced the lights, I did a demonstration in front of the school showing the kids what LED lighting looks like. I lit up an LED light like a light sabre and the kids loved it when I dropped the light on the ground and it didn’t break. We also had the children measuring the output of different lights with a lumen reader and they were amazed they were able to track the power.”

Coney trained as a teacher in Western Australia then worked in IT, but it is his daughter who has been the inspiration for his move into LED lighting.

“I’m the father of my six-year-old daughter and as I’ve watched her growing up, I thought I want to make a difference in how sustainable our schools are.”

He has travelled to China to inspect the factory where the T8LED lights are made to ensure the sustainable approach of the company begins at the very source.

Currently there are few hard and fast requirements of schools to make their schools sustainable across the board, but Coney explains that students are so well educated in the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling that LED lighting simply makes sense to them.

“We’ve found school children are fascinated by sustainable practices – and that the teaching across the sciences in relation to LED lighting and explaining the social and environmental positives of the lighting can become the beginning of a lesson plan for teachers.”

This is a sentiment echoed by the teacher lead on the Schoolgen programme, Maggie Clink from Clifton Terrace.

“The introduction of solar panels sparked a lot of interest from the school community, inspiring the pupils to come up with other ways to become more sustainable,” she says.

Unlike fluorescent and halogen light bulbs, LED lighting doesn’t fade over time. Studies have also shown that behavioural issues in schools have been reduced simply by improving the quality of the light. The better quality of light reduces eye strain and as a result worsening eyesight and migraines.


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