LEDs – embodied emissions vs power savings

Do the power savings of LEDs outweigh embodied emissions?

‘Embodied’ emissions include the impacts created during manufacturing; which is important to consider when looking at the entire life-cycle of a lighting product.

1. Do the impacts of manufacturing LED lights outweigh the benefits?

While its true that the manufacturing of LED lights requires more energy than manufacturing older lighting technologies such as halogen and incandescent, the overall benefits almost always outweigh this. Depending on hours of use.

  • Firstly, the majority of energy impacts come from the ongoing power usage, not the manufacturing stage.  As you can see in this graph.
  • Secondly, LED lights have a much longer lifespan, meaning less lights need to be manufactured, and less end-of-life impacts such as landfill and/or energy used for recycling. However, while LED has improved greatly in the last few years, there is still a lot of poor quality products being sold. A study by DOE a few years ago found that almost 1/4 LED lights were failing in one or two years, making them not much better than incandescent or halogen lights. So buying good quality LED lights is important.
  • Also, buying LED lights creates increased investment in R&D, which not only creates economy of scale, but also means constant technology improvements.

2. Retrofits – do the power savings created by LEDs justify throwing away working lights?

The simple answer is yes, depending on the situation. For example:

The Global Warming Potential environmental impact of production (GWP) for an Osram halogen downlight bulb is around 0.33 kg CO2e. Running the light for one hour creates about 0.0395 kg CO2e (based on National Greenhouse Accounts Factors for QLD).

Manufacturing an 8W Osram Parathom LED on the other hand creates about 2.4 kg CO2e, but running it for one hour in QLD only generates about 0.00632 CO2e.

So it would only take 63hrs of use for the power savings to outweigh the embodied emissions. Considering that running a light 6hrs per day adds up to 2,190hrs per year, LED definitely makes sense in most cases.

Once you consider the long life of the LED (more than 10x that of the halogen) the numbers become quite staggering, as LED lights usually last for 25,000hrs right up to 100,000hrs.

Also, there are other benefits to LED that should be considered. For example:

  • LED’s produce less heat, which often equates to less power used by air conditioning.
  • Buying LED lights increases R&D, meaning technology improvements and economies of scale.
  • Traditional lighting often has ballast losses, so often draw much more than the rated wattage.

However, there are always exceptions to the rule. For example a Halogen Downlight in a cupboard that only gets turned on a few times per year, or an Induction Light (which is already quite efficient) might not be worth changing straight away. In the majority of cases though, it does make sense.

3. Retrofits – what do I do with my old lights?

As a Fluorocycle signatory, Austep Lighting is committed to keeping fluorescent lights out of landfill. At first we thought this meant paying recycling companies to take them away (most council tips will accept small quantities for recycling, but usually no more than 10 lamps). But then we had a lightbulb moment – re-using is better than recycling. In an ideal world, all lights would be LED, but in reality many places are still buying older lighting technologies… And the 1000+ fluoro tubes we’d just removed from a building (which we’d upgraded to LED) were still in good condition… It only took 3 phone calls to find someone willing to come and pickup the fluorescent tubes for free so they could be re-used.


Like all things, weighing up the embodied impacts vs ongoing benefits of changing to LED should be looked at on a case by case basis. But in the majority of cases, updating old lights to LED makes sense.

If you do switch to LED:

  • Consider giving away (or at the very least recycling) your old lights.
  • Make sure you get LED lights that will last, backed up by a warranty.


Life cycle analysis of an OSRAM halogen lamp: http://www.osram.com/osram_com/sustainability/environmental/product-lifecycle-management/lca-of-a-halogen-lamp/index.jsp :

Life cycle analysis of an OSRAM light-emitting diode lamp: http://www.osram.com/osram_com/sustainability/environmental/product-lifecycle-anagement/lca-of-an-led-lamp/index.jsp :

Ask Umbra: Do the costs of LEDs outweigh the benefits? http://renewable-energy-watch.info/2013/07/29/ask-umbra-do-the-costs-of-leds-outweigh-the-benefits/ 

Life-Cycle Assessment of Energy and Environmental Impacts of LED Lighting Products: http://apps1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/publications/pdfs/ssl/2012_LED_Lifecycle_Report.pdf

Life cycle assessment of light sources – Case studies and review of the analyses: http://lib.tkk.fi/Diss/2013/isbn9789526052502/isbn9789526052502.pdf

List of Australian lamp recyclers: http://www.fluorocycle.org.au/recyclers.php


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