Hospitals and health care systems have so many issues to deal with on a daily basis - and around the clock for good measure – that it's somewhat understandable if investing in sustainability and energy efficiency is not a high priority.
But it should be even with the daily challenges of running a hospital. The benefits of investing in green are too substantial and all-encompassing to ignore it any longer. It's way past time for sustainability to be considered a tree hugger's delight instead of the rock solid business case it represents in terms of money saved and the potential for reinvestment in patient care and a healthy environment.
Advocate Health Care, Downers Grove, Ill., is proof that ensuring the safety of the health care environment reaps multiple rewards, as one report in this month's newsletter states. Advocate has saved more than $15 million in energy-efficiency, reduced consumption and overall waste-reduction since 2008.
The beauty of investing in sustainability is that it stretches the spectrum from installing energy-efficient lighting to upgrading building – also known as the proverbial low hanging fruit – to installing higher end technology such as solar panels or geothermal heating and cooling systems. Obviously, infrastructure is pivotal to the energy saving process.
Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, Wis., is getting closer each month to its goal of becoming energy independent through an array of energy savings actions that include energy-efficient technology to renewable energy production.
But it started through a basic but productive conservation effort that led to $1 million in energy savings. Those efforts included reprogramming cooling system controls, chiller tower optimization, zoned heating and cooling and others.
Again, there's more at stake than cutting costs, a worthy goal in itself. Sustainable designs and operations increase human health, productivity and safety, says Barbara Hamilton, LEED Green associate, sustainability manager, Palomar Health, Escondido, Calif. Since the health system opened Palomar Medical Center in Escondido, "patient satisfaction scores have gone up dramatically," she says.
Fortunately, there are excellent tools and resources to help you get started on the sustainability path or to take your efforts to a higher level, as noted in the story Achieving environmental efficiency.
The American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) has developed or helped to coordinate a number of resources to help health facilities professionals tap the benefits of sustainability. They include the following publications, websites and tools:
• Energy to Care program. Helps you measure your facility's energy use with a robust dashboard. Go to www.energytocare.com.
• Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals. The website features numerous how-to guides for efficiency projects. Visit www.sustainabilityroadmap.org.
• Energy University. This initiative offers free online learning courses for facility professionals. Go to www.ashe.org/energyuniversity.
• Commissioning educational programs. ASHE's program makes the business case for commissioning. Visit www.ashe.org/learn/seminars_and_workshops/HFCx.
Also, Portfolio Manager from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star program is an excellent tool that allows hospitals to input their utility data and connect with ASHE's Energy to Care program.