How LED lighting affects the natural environment

La Trobe University

Friday, 21 August, 2020

How LED lighting affects the natural environment

The La Trobe University Net Zero fund will be investigating the impact that LED lighting has on native wildlife.

The fund, sponsored by Sonepar, includes $300,000 to enable five research projects and $200,000 for research supporting La Trobe’s commitment to becoming more sustainable.

PhD student Alicia Dimovski’s work on the impact of LED lighting on nocturnal Australian animals, particularly sugar gliders at La Trobe’s Bundoora campus, is being carried out through the fund.

Dimovski is one of five PhD students who will each receive a $20,000 scholarship as part of a newly established $500,000 Net Zero Fund supporting research, scholarships and student initiatives.

She said white LEDs emit short, blue wavelengths that could have damaging effects on wildlife.

“Light pollution represents the most drastic change to the nocturnal environment by effectively turning night into day, and we are only beginning to learn the impact this has on nocturnal ecology. This is of particular concern in Australia where over 80% of our mammals are nocturnal,” she said.

Her work is part of a broader study being led by Dr Kylie Robert, La Trobe Senior Lecturer, Ecology, Environment & Evolution, and the Research Centre for Future Landscapes, which aims to develop ‘wildlife friendly’ LED lighting and has also received a share of the $300,000 research pool of the fund.

With the funding, Dimovski and Robert will quantify the impact of artificial night lighting on wildlife, particularly urban sugar gliders, small nocturnal marsupials, by assessing their behaviour and health parameters.

“In conjunction with lighting engineers, we hope to develop ‘wildlife-friendly’ LED lighting. Most old-technology street lighting is now past its 25- to 30-year lifespan and this is a timely opportunity to develop and test sustainable, wildlife friendly lighting options that can be included in lighting design guidelines.”

Robert said the project would assist in the formation of Australia’s much needed ‘wildlife lighting’ guidelines and implementation of a certification program.

The Net Zero Fund projects commence this year. As part of the University’s Net Zero program, 24,000 LED lights have been fitted across all La Trobe Campuses and 7000 solar panels have been installed on 27 buildings at the Melbourne Campus in Bundoora, with both projects helping La Trobe to reduce its energy consumption and reach carbon neutrality. An on-site composting unit also diverts from landfill all organic waste from cafes, kitchens and public spaces into a nutrient-rich fertiliser used on campus gardens.

Other Net Zero fund projects include work to investigate how artificial intelligence can assist with energy optimisation, and energy efficiency in the Internet of Things, heating and cooling systems, lighting, university research labs and offices.

The program aims to make the university carbon neutral by 2029, and its regional campuses will be net zero by 2022.

La Trobe Vice-Chancellor Professor John Dewar AO said the Net Zero fund was a tremendous boost to the university’s already considerable progress towards sustainability.

“We are making real headway with our Net Zero program and through the Net Zero fund, we are able to invest in research initiatives that have the potential to advance energy efficiency, sustainability and lighting solutions,” he said.

Image credit: ©šan Kostić

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