Light for Change

This is the motto the United Nations have chosen for 2015, the International Year of Light and Light-Based Technologies, upon the initiative of UNESCO and numerous scientific organisations. The year is meant to heighten global awareness as to how light-based technologies can favour sustainable development and contribute to solving global challenges in the sphere of energy, education, agriculture and health. Light plays an essential role in our everyday lives and is an inevitable object of research in 21st century science. Light has revolutionised medical science, enabled international communication via Internet and is of key importance when it comes to connecting cultural, economic and political aspects of global society.


The year 2015 marks numerous anniversaries of great achievements of humankind that are based on light: from fundamentals of physical optics and the first prototype of a machine powered by solar energy through to Einstein's general theory of relativity.   

These and other milestones form the basis of contemporary technologies that not only ensure our survival, but also determine our everyday lives. Accordingly, the huge potential of light-based technologies, such as photonics, laser technology or LEDs, enables us to make visions of the future more tangible – even for the most remote regions of the world.

No other physical phenomenon has such a manifest cultural dimension as light. No other natural phenomenon plays a similarly formative role for human civilisation in the most varied cultural contexts. The history of light is also the history of space. The word "space" originally meant "clearing", which translates into German as "Lichtung". This word shares its roots with the German term "Licht", which means "light". Being an intangible element, light needs matter to become visible, and accordingly is the prerequisite for perceiving our built environment. Therefore, our understanding of light is always linked to a concept of space – light is a medium of architecture and thus part of the design. Moreover, it controls the body clock of human beings and has a tremendous influence on the autonomic nervous system, which is demonstrably confirmed by numerous research studies.

Activities around the Year of Light

Light has a decisive influence on our well-being and sense of safety; therefore it is a fundamental claim to provide every human being with access to light. Since 20% of our global consumption of electricity are accounted for by lighting, future innovative options must result in a higher degree of efficiency and sustainability in lighting power consumption. Architecture plays a central role in this process. Each room concept builds on light in the form of daylight and/or artificial lighting. Developments in the sphere of innovative lighting systems may make essential contributions to improving our living conditions and providing for resource-efficient and sustainable solutions.

A mobilisation of science is going to promote the sustainable use of natural resources in future. The activities around the Year of Light promote the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals of the United Nations; for light-based technologies contribute to improving the standard of living all over the world. Lighting technology accordingly constitutes an important driver within society and the economy, offering the potential to revolutionise the 21st century.

Ambassadress (retired) Dr. Eva Nowotny
President of the Austrian Commission for UNESCO