Poeling discusses sustainability initiatives at a client’s facility.

Image courtesy of U.S. Engineering Service

For Tom Poeling, PE, CEM, CCP, managing sustainability efforts is like walking a tightrope. As the director of energy and sustainability at U.S. Engineering Service, a Midwest-based mechanical contractor, Poeling enjoys the balancing act of weighing environmental benefits with economic outcomes.

“I really enjoy trying to unravel that mystery,” Poeling says. “Most facilities managers from health care have a desire to reduce their waste and operating costs and be more sustainable. But they have such a challenge when it comes to competing priorities and limited resources. I like trying to figure out how to get results in a very challenging environment.”

Poeling is based just outside of Denver, Colo., a city and state that recently increased sustainability and decarbonization regulations following a first wave of similar regulation that swept the U.S. coasts. Through U.S. Engineering Service, Poeling is helping Colorado health care facilities comply with the new regulations. He also has helped shape the rules, leading two Colorado Association of Healthcare Engineers & Directors (CAHED) sustainability committees as the American Society for Health Care Engineering (ASHE) chapter’s sustainability liaison and testifying to the Colorado legislature on behalf of a multi-association contingent working to ensure reasonable and attainable energy- and carbon-reduction benchmarks are set in state regulations.

Having data-backed, attainable benchmarks for sustainability regulations is vital to success, Poeling says. Health care facilities first need to know how energy is being used and emissions are being generated before they can steadily implement changes to reach compliance.

Poeling led CAHED’s effort last summer to advise Colorado on its Regulation 28, Building Benchmarking and Performance Standards. These rules were created as part of a law directing the Colorado Air Quality Control Commission to achieve a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in buildings of 7% by 2026 and 20% by 2030, based on a 2021 baseline.

As the leader of his company’s sustainability program, Poeling helps customers implement decarbonization and energy efficiency measures in their facilities to reduce costs, meet regulations and minimize health care’s environmental impact. In that work, Poeling recommends using ASHE’s free Energy to Care® program, which gives health care facilities the ability to track and benchmark their energy and resource use (see main story). 

“Now that sustainability is being required, everybody is looking for resources, and the Energy to Care program has always offered a real wealth of resources for health care organizations,” Poeling says. “It is by health care for health care, and so nice to provide our customers with a library of best practices shared from their peers.”

The Energy to Care benchmarking data was vital when providing feedback to Colorado regulators on whether their reduction efforts were reasonable or even possible in comparison to current levels. By showing that the average energy use intensity (EUI) in Colorado was 225 kilo-British thermal units per square foot (kBTU/SF) for hospitals, CAHED’s advocacy contingent was able to convince the state to raise the 2030 EUI target for hospitals from 152 kBTU/SF to 172 kBTU/SF.

“Our advocacy was a lot stronger because I had that data behind me, and we were able to firmly argue what the targets ought to be,” Poeling says. “We painted a picture for the state that their program needed to be robust, fair and well-resourced.”