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United Way of Central Alabama

 Birmingham, AL  Indoor Lighting

As one of the largest United Way chapters in the country, UWCA continually leverages technology to improve their overall operational efficiency. When it came to a new 40,000-square-foot expansion project, they turned to the manufacturer who had product ready to ship - Cree Lighting.


Organized in 1923, United Way of Central Alabama (UWCA) has a rich history in helping neighborhoods and communities in the region. As one of the few United Way chapters in the nation that provides direct services to its community, UWCA raises over $97 million annually to support more than 200 programs and initiatives focused on ensuring quality education, financial stability, health and access to vital emergency services. As one of the largest United Way chapters in the country, UWCA continually leverages technology to improve their overall operational efficiency.

With the help of technology solutions provider Continuity Consulting, UWCA began exploring intelligent lighting options, including Cree Lighting’s SmartCast® Intelligence Platform, for its new 40,000 square-foot expansion project.


The decision to go with an intelligent PoE lighting system for UWCA’s new facility was not one that was made lightly—it ultimately came down to operational efficiency and cost.

“While a line voltage LED lighting system would have given us control features, it would not give us the capabilities we could leverage by having the lights connected to the switched Ethernet network,” says Doug Goodwin, UWCA’s vice president of information systems of more than 20 years. “It wasn’t just about having more granular control and built-in features like occupancy sensing, daylight harvesting and color tuning. I knew that intelligent PoE lighting would give us the potential to integrate with other building systems like HVAC to ultimately lower our operational costs. We pride ourselves on being good stewards of our funding and having the lowest possible administrative overhead.”

Another key consideration was future-readiness—the intelligent lighting infrastructure could be leveraged for other network devices or to support future technologies. For example, connected sensors integrated into the intelligent lighting fixtures can be used to collect and share a variety of data such as usage patterns, temperature and humidity to achieve even greater operational efficiencies. Being connected to the network also provides the opportunity for the lighting system to integrate with security systems, and many of these systems might someday be outfitted with capabilities like gunshot detection and automatically changing color or flashing during a crisis.

To accomplish this level of operational efficiency, cost-savings and future-readiness, UWCA selected a total of 500 Cree Lighting fixtures—CR Series troffers and KR Series downlights— paired with Cree Lighting’s SmartCast® Techology. The SmartCast Intelligence Platform™ combines intelligent lighting with embedded sensors and IP protocols for easy setup and control, data acquisition, scalability and integration with other building applications.

“In selecting a lighting system, we found that Cree Lighting was one of the few manufacturers who had product ready to ship. Most other options had lead times that varied from 10 to 50 weeks,” explains Carl Sosnin of Continuity. “We also preferred Cree Lighting’s one-to-one fixture-centric topology versus a node-centric topology that limited flexibility and added a potential point of failure. The system also had all of the capabilities we were looking for, and Cree Lighting provided design support, including an on-site programmer to help us commission the system.”

While Cree Lighting was ready to provide on-site support as needed, the system is considered extremely easy to use and comes with a 10-year warranty. Once the fixtures have power, the lights are on. And once ‘go’ is initiated in the SmartCast Intelligence Platform™, all the fixtures become smart, controllable devices.

“Most organizations with intelligent lighting tweak the lights after a couple of weeks to suit their personal preference, but it’s designed to completely function on its own,” explains Drew Kolb, director of strategic business development, IoT, for Cree Lighting. “With this systems’ API, the potential for the amount of data is impressive—especially with both UWCA’s and Continuity’s know-how in using open protocols to enable devices to talk to each other. It will be exciting to witness the system as it matures and how they will ultimately use the data to lower their operating expense.”


In a project completed in less than a year, everyone was extremely pleased with the outcome and the future-readiness of intelligent lighting.

“Building technology seems to be where telephones were 20 years ago. It’s rapidly evolving, and we believe intelligent lighting will really take off over the next few years,” says Carl. “The United Way of Central Alabama project will allow us to demonstrate our quality of work and the range of technologies we can install. We are very proud to be a part of it.”  

Drew Kolb from Cree Lighting wholeheartedly agrees and also sees endless possibilities for intelligent lighting.  

“We’re already seeing intelligent lighting sensors used to analyze the environment, temperature, pressure, VOC gas and humidity. We are very excited for the United Way to have access to all the opportunities that come with this technology,” he says. “Honestly, I’ve also appreciated the personal experience. We’ve all had some interaction with the United Way, and I’ve donated and volunteered my own time over the years. And that makes this project more special than the average commercial enterprise.”

Looking back over the past year, Doug is certain that they made the right decision by choosing intelligent lighting with SmartCast® Technology for the expansion project and is excited for the future.

“United Way of Central Alabama has had 17 consecutive four-star ratings from Charity Navigator, and we pride ourselves on always doing what we say we’re going to do and staying below our administrative overhead,” he says. “The intelligent lighting system at our new facility is no exception. It wasn’t a guessing game and we didn’t take any risk. It was the right time for us to choose this approach, and we’re confident that we will end up with operational savings and improved functionality.”

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