By Shawn Hesse, emersionDESIGN

by Shawn Hesse, emersionDESIGN

There’s a superstition within the sustainability movement that codes, budgets, schedules, clients, consultants, or some other unseen thing controls the outcome of our work.  That is the reason we aren’t achieving the ambitious sustainability goals we all have for our projects. Whether it is net zero energy, LEED Platinum, Living Building Challenge, or something less flashy but just as important like lighting upgrades and system-wide change.

Boston was named the most energy-efficient city in the US by ACEE last year; yet each day, I ride the T to Central square and look up to see the platform lined with 8’ long, 2 lamp T-12 fluorescent fixtures.  Looking down the tunnel, I can see the same fixtures lining the tunnels that are all on 24/7. Lighting upgrades are the lowest hanging fruit.  How can we be in the most energy-efficient community with a major piece of infrastructure using such outdated technology? It’s like we are trying to run a marathon but have a hard time tying our shoes. 

In response, I’ve begun work on a volunteer project called “LED the T”. With a system-wide swap (approximately 70,000 fixtures) to LED’s, the MBTA could save thousands of dollars a month in energy costs and hundreds of thousands of tons of carbon. So why hasn’t anyone done this yet? They’ve already swapped signal lights to LED fixtures, with a payback of less than 4 months. 

I’ve spoken with several representatives at MBTA and it occurs to me that they’ve fallen victim to the Sustainability Superstition, that there are things outside of their control that are stopping them. A full-system swap of lighting fixtures throughout the MBTA system is achievable. It is fiscally responsible and it will reduce carbon emissions. The success of the “LED the T” project will demonstrate that we are a community that is ready to tackle the serious challenges of sustainability and resilient infrastructure, that we’ve moved beyond low-hanging fruit of lighting upgrades and are ready to work towards a sustainable and regenerative community. Most importantly, the success of “LED the T” will disprove the Sustainability Superstition and show that there is no such thing as “outside our control”.

Ready to give up your superstitions?

Shawn Hesse RA, LEED AP BD+C, O+M, USGBC Faculty


45 Prospect Street | Cambridge, MA 02139 | P 617 682 0262 |

Shawn is an architect and sustainability consultant and leads the Cambridge office of emersion DESIGN, a multidisciplinary firm driven by advancing clients that advance society. If you would like to get involved with “LED the T” email him at:

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