It Is Time for Lighting to Become a Licensed Profession

There are a few folks who are going to hate this post, and I sympathize with them. But, it’s time we stop skirting around what we all know. Lighting needs to be elevated as a profession, and I believe licensure is key to that.

Professional Licensure is a Necessity for Credibility

Architecture, Structural, Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering are licensed professionals, as these practices have the potential for causing harm to human occupants, the environment, and their clients. These professions operate under the guidance and direction of code authorities, and best practices, which establish the foundation for safety, security, and asset protection.

General contractors, and most sub contractors are licenced practitioners. All must pass qualifications of time (including apprenticeship) and academic knowledge.

Every individual that is the medical profession who makes direct care contact with patients is licensed, from nurses to doctors. You have to hold a license to practice law. In each case, the requirement includes passing experience (internship) and academic tests.

The reason these licenses exist is that in each case, the professional or tradesman is in a position to do harm to their customers or clientele, that led to them being required to pass set minimum qualifications in order to practice.

The Unregulated Lighting Industry Acknowledges it Does Harm

The lighting industry now openly makes claims about what light can do, in both harm and benefit, and that applied lighting can be used to impart physiological responses in humans (directly with intent and indirectly through general application). Lighting industry professionals openly admit that past lighting practices have not fully considered the harm being done to human and natural surroundings. There has been a significant build up of a body of data indicating that improper lighting in product form and in application, is responsible for damage to humans and natural surroundings.

Yet, lighting remains an unregulated industry, which has no control over the claims made of manufacturers, sales teams, or practitioners. In fact, other than prescriptive energy codes, a couple of voluntary merit awards programs, and a couple of weak ordinances around the country, there is no protection of the general public from poor lighting practices. Manufacturers can claim anything they want with no recourse. Utilities can apply lighting in communities everywhere, with no requirement to study or design to mitigate potential harm to humans or the environment. Residential lighting is applied with no consideration of light trespass, or impact on neighbors or the environment. Lighting designers are free to express their vision, with no requisite due-diligence to the effects of their work.

Neither the LC or CLD are a Surrogate for Licensing

The qualifications to sit for the LC exam is as follows:

If you hold a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college/university and have three years of lighting-related experience, OR have a total of six years of lighting-related work experience, you are qualified to sit for the examination.


This is why we see so many folks from sales and marketing positions with the “LC” tagged onto their names. It no longer represents or differentiates lighting application practitioners. Been working at a lighting showroom for six years and are good at taking tests? You too can get that coveted “LC” to tag onto your name to impress friends and family.

The CLP qualifications are only somewhat better:

Applicants must have at least 3 years’ experience working as a lead lighting designer.
A lead lighting designer is responsible for:
• Creating the lighting design strategy and crafting the lighting design concepts for client projects
• Documentation related to the design solutions of the project
• Conveying and exchanging ideas with the client and the project team
• Meeting project design deadlines
• Providing advice throughout the implementation process
• Guiding the outcome of the developed and documented design
Membership in IALD or any other professional association or trade group is not required.

CLP Handbook

Note that the emphasis is on doing design, meeting deadlines, and being a member of a professional association. Applicant qualification is then completed by review of proof of these acts, and subjective evaluation of a portfolio of project images. Does 3 years in the business, taking some meetings on time, and resenting a smattering of images of interiors with lighting in them, actually a strong basis for qualification?

As it stands, both the LC or CLP label are the work of an industry attempting to create credibility for itself, within its own walls, based on self determined metrics. They serve mainly to establish an elite within the industry, which creates barriers to entry against competing designers in a given market (even when the certified practitioner is inferior to the one who never bothered with the process. Whether these are of value to customers is highly subjective and based on the practitioner carrying the label. These are a closed system of invented bureaucracy, which is not a solution, it confuses the issue.

The Missing Link – Uniform Lighting Codes and Standards

You cannot establish a licensure system without codes and standards on which to base qualification, set curriculum for schools, and build testing and qualification protocols. The lighting industry is great for issuing all manner of “recommendations” and issuing claims and holding meetings. It has not done anything substantial in creation of a code.

While there are more than a dozen state-level lighting codes founded primarily on energy use, ASHRAE (also focused on energy utilization), the NEC, and a smattering of local and regional ordinances, there are no uniform codes established for lighting practice. While the IES handbook is a reasonably useful reference book, it is not useable as a code book on the same level as the NFPA or UBC code books for one reason, there are no established objective parameters on which to build code.

It isn’t as though there is no foundation to build on. In addition to the IES and state codes, ASHRAE, the CIE, ISO, IEC, IEEE, NEMA, and the NFPA all have a solid collection of building block standards that could readily be used as a scaffolding to build on and pull together into a uniform lighting code. Sprinkle in the AMA, Dark Skies, numerous city, state, and regional standards/ordinances, even the FWC to cover wildlife protection, and an objective review of science data already being discussed – and with time, one could see a truly solid lighting code be constructed.

With a code and standards set in place, the work of creating proper licensure and regulation as to who can and who cannot practice lighting application design, what manufactures will be required to do to be compliant, and where the line between the interests of selling product and the interests of the public are.

The Argument that we Can’t Limit Creativity of Lighting by Hobbling the Industry with Codes and Licensing – is Fallacy

Over the last century, there have been magnificent works of architecture, civic structures, landscapes, and civil designs, on every scale imaginable, built to by licensed professionals. The argument that codes and standards will somehow throttle the creative minds of lighting design professionals is… well… for want of a better word – B.S.. The days of theatrical lighting designers imposing their art of light into the built environment are as over as the days of individuals building homes on their property without inspection and compliance with codes. The quality of buildings is not diminished by licensed professionals, but the number of deaths from failed structures certainly has bee.

Time to put the argument that compliance with standards and licensure will unnecessarily kill creative design in lighting where it belongs – in the compost pile.

Lighting is Now Basically Herbalism

The current practice of espousing lighting as a health enabling component of the environment, with zero pre-qualification of those making claims, or licensure of those prescribing it, is similar to the supplements business – which is unregulated by the FDA. This means that the truly valuable products are blended into the mass of junk on offer proclaiming whatever they think will sell – even those that do real harm, or are nothing more than a scam.

For lighting to be considered a legitimate practice, it needs to create a line of demarcation between unsupported, unregulated claims of marketers and self interested entities – and the actual scientific understanding of light and its importance and affect – both negative and positive. It needs to create an environment where the professionals of lighting are qualified, identifiable and distinct from those who are not.

Further, scientists and manufacturer sponsored studies that present papers and make claims about lighting effects, based on case studies involving too few subjects to draw true conclusions, must also be required to disclose the voracity of their claims. In medical practice, scientists making claims based on studies involving a half dozen subjects has virtually no credibility. In lighting, such studies are often used to build product marketing plans, and spawn massive industry debate. This must end.

Today, the claims of the lighting community about any matter related to the impact of light on health and well being of any description – regardless of how outspoken a few supposedly qualified individuals within it are – is nothing more than the work of herbalists. Until there are standards and tests of credibility, this will not improve, and the situation will continue to erode.

Licensing Changes Everything

While licensing does not solve anything, it is far better than leaving the industry to continue like cowboys of the Wild West. Today, rep agencies, showroom sales people, manufacturer apps engineers, electrical engineers, architects, interior designers, wholesalers, and ESCos all claim to provide lighting design service. Licensing would real all this in, and make the practice of lighting design a true profession, which would build it up and expand it, while reducing the impact of sales and product marketing on the practice.

There needs to be a hard and visible division between marketers, manufacturers, and sales channel – and lighting practitioners. In this, just like all other professional licensing practices, membership in the former disqualifies one from membership in the latter. Unlike the LC or CLP certifications, professional licensure should be regulated stringently, and be founded on rigid pre-qualifications and academics, as well as a process for license revocation.

But first, we need a true Lighting Code book to be developed, that includes all factors, from application requirements for energy, vision, task performance, environmental impact, light trespass, light pollution mitigation, with inclusion of all factors involving impact of light directly and indirectly on human physiology, as well as surrounding environmental impact.

This cannot include any grandfathering in of those currently practicing, or who are members of committees setting up the process itself, as was the case with the current LC credential so many years ago. The long game is to transform lighting from snake oil/holistic practices to enforceable accreditation of those who have the knowledge, education, technical background and qualifications necessary to apply the science of light, as much as the capacity to deliver light as an aesthetic component of the environment.

That does not mean that “lighting design” as a career ends, it just puts it under the larger licensed professional umbrella. There are millions of architectural and electrical designers without licenses working for, or under the umbrella of a PE or Architect who must sign off and qualify the resulting end product before it is built out. Having a Licensed Lighting Professional stand behind the work of others – who is responsible and separated from the marketers, sellers, and non-professionals – will be part of the industry. Eventually, this will lead to state approvals and requirements for licensing that will elevate Lighting as a true profession.

The Time for Licensing Has Come…

Is the industry ready for this today? Without any doubt, the answer to this is a resounding NO!.. and that is truly the root of the problem, and why we must all take all claims coming from the industry with the same cynical eye as one takes of folks peddling baldness cure pills. With that, the respect of an Architect (or other licensed professional) on building projects, will always be less, and the weight of influence diluted for those pitching ideas in project interactions. When towns meet to discuss lighting ordinances, until there is a real credibility gap between lighting professionals, and anyone with a voice spouting the latest malarkey they read on the Interwebs, the cause of improving lighting conditions in public spaces will suffer.

Author: kwillmorth

Photographer and Artist

One thought on “It Is Time for Lighting to Become a Licensed Profession”

  1. I agree with Kevin to a great extent and have tried throughout my career to encourage professionalisation of Lighting Design through the associations. For a considerable time I have seen requirements to demonstrate competency in some tangible form become requirements to win some public and large commercial projects in UK and the EU.

    For my part I decided to become a Chartered Engineer through the UK Institute of Lighting Professionals. This is the successor to the Institute of Illumination Engineers and largely serving the engineers responsible for street and roadway lighting, an area where there are copious standards that need to be followed and a great consequential risk if things go wrong.

    I followed a path demonstrating my acquired skills through project portfolios and a supervised dissertation on a lighting design subject. These were followed by a day of interviews first on my practice to date and secondly in depth questioning on the dissertation. To maintain my qualification I need to prove that I have undertaken Continuing Professional Development to a defined extent each year.

    I was the first non engineering degree holder to achieve this and have been followed by a very few other active architectural lighting designers in the UK. This route and qualification is the same in the UK for electrical, civil and structural engineers. Here licensure is not as formal as in the USA and there is not the same requirement to stamp and sign drawings however the same liabilities apply to the people identified as having design responsibility.

    I think the big question is why do active lighting designers not seek a stamp of professionalism?

    When it comes to codification of lighting I am much less comfortable with this. Apart from the problem with the metrics we use and the focus on Illuminance rather than luminance as the design target, Lighting Designers need to get themselves embedded in the committees that write these standards and reccomendations. I am happy to report that IALD European Regulatory Affairs Committee are, and we will be at the table when the next update to EN12464-1 workplace Lighting-Interiors takes place.

    Overall regulations on lighting in the UK are not prescriptive. The designer has to justify his designs and can choose compliance with published recommendations or to diverge from them with an arguable reason to do so. However the writers of project briefs are prone to demanding the recommendations as requirements.

    This discussion is vital and needed to ensure the profession of architectural lighting design grows and gains strength lest we decline to the standards of arm waving interior decorators.

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