The American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) advocacy staff has spent much effort on sustainability, particularly how to define the terminology commonly used in that field.

For example, the concept of minimizing carbon emissions is connected to terms such as “carbon neutral,” “carbon zero” and “carbon negative.” All of these terms mean somewhat the same thing but, without clear definitions, it’s difficult for a hospital to meet a particular carbon-related goal.

Furthermore, ASHE advocates want to make sure that the definitions for those terms relate to goals that hospitals can feasibly achieve. Hospitals consume a great deal of energy, so getting to a point where a hospital can meet a carbon-related goal requires the goal be set with reality in mind. This is especially true considering that some technology that could help a hospital reduce carbon emissions — such as a microgrid, which can use renewable energy and could feasibly replace a fossil-fuel emergency generator — is not permitted in currently adopted Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Conditions of Participation.

“I think that with hospitals’ reliance on fossil fuels, it’s going to be difficult to get to ‘carbon negative,’ but we support it in a way that would be feasible [and] reasonable that we can actually get there,” says Kara Brooks, MS, LEED AP BD & C, ASHE’s sustainability program manager. “I think that there is an enthusiasm for going big and going bold, but it’s just a matter of trying to keep in mind really what can be done within our current codes and where the technology is right now.”

Brooks says ASHE is building tools and other resources to help hospitals reach their sustainability goals. Two examples are ASHE’s Energy to Care program and its sustainability “treasure hunts,” which help facilities managers discover ways to improve efficiency and reduce emissions. 

Furthermore, ASHE is making sure the viewpoints of hospital facilities managers are included in discussions of sustainability goals by having advocates — including Brooks; Jonathan Flannery, MHSA, CHFM, FASHE, FACHE, ASHE’s senior associate director of advocacy; and Chad Beebe, AIA, CHFM, CFPS, CBO, FASHE, ASHE’s deputy executive director — on the responsible committees, including those in ASHRAE, the National Fire Protection Association and the International Code Council.

“We have representation on all of those,” Brooks says. “It’s so that we can help influence these topics because not everybody understands them. It’s pretty easy to say, ‘We want to do something,’ without understanding how feasible it is to get there. So, we work with them to make sure that whatever targets or goals they’re setting are achievable under current conditions.”