How We Can Make the Hospitals of the Future Green?

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Hospitals have many opportunities at their disposal already for realizing resource and energy savings. So what will the hospitals of the future look like, with even more technology at our disposal? As locations committed to healing, and which already have many regulatory and strategic reasons for investing in technology, hospitals seem like an obvious place to explore how technology can promote a healthy society and planet.  

Automate Power and Climate Control Systems  

Almost nothing that happens under the roof of a hospital is possible without electricity. But it’s not a foregone conclusion that hospitals, clinics, and other aid-rendering facilities need to be wasteful in their use of power. The same goes for climate control.  

Smarter technology can make a huge difference in when it comes to the operating expenses of conservation-minded healthcare providers. Lights should have timers or motions sensors so energy isn’t being wasted in empty rooms. The same goes for heating or cooling offices and examination rooms: smart thermostats allow programmable schedules for setting the temperature as well as threshold settings and occupancy sensors for even further savings. Many of these are technologies you might recognize from the consumer market, but the savings are amplified further when they’re applied across an entire medical campus.

Invest in “Out of the Box” Thinking for Infrastructure Design  

There’s no getting around the fact that “going green” is going to represent a major investment for many hospitals. But out-of-the-box designs and future-minded thinking can help ensure medical providers make the most impactful choices when it comes to green infrastructure investments, as the Great Ormond Street Hospital in London demonstrated.  

The hospital made a strategic investment of $572 million against the reduction of 20,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions per business year. How’d they done it? By building a waste heat recovery system to slash their energy use and expenses, as well as by installing an under-floor heating and cooling system to replace their dependency on wasteful traditional heating and cooling systems.  

Install Green Spaces and Green Roofs  

A green space can be something to be enjoyed indoors — like a sunroom with lots of plants or a courtyard with trees and running water — or it can be a well-kept outdoor space on your grounds where one can commune with nature.  

There are many advantages of having lots of green areas available in public spaces:  

· Refreshes the air and reduces the impact of cleaning agents and other chemicals on human health  

· Hospitals and other buildings with green spaces around the property can stay up to 30 degrees cooler on some of the hottest summer days than buildings with lawns, which waste unconscionable amounts of water, provide no shade and harm rather than benefit soil retention.  

· Green areas can promote restfulness and healing in patients and offer a place to convalesce and perhaps meditate, without the use of electronics.  

Green roofs, like the name, suggests, sit atop the roof of homes and commercial buildings, helping turn harsh sunlight into food for plants, who in turn provide a cooling effect, and much more, for the building’s occupants and even the larger surrounding area. Green roofs greatly reduce the buildup of heat in high-traffic buildings, provide biodiversity for local habitats, aid in the stormwater runoff — a major problem in cities with lots of paved surfaces — and a host of other aesthetic, practical and environmental benefits.  

If that’s not enough to convince you, the lifespan of a living roof can be twice as long as a roof built with conventional materials, which further saves on installation expenses and material waste.  

Offset Your Carbon by Purchasing Clean Energy  

The idea of “carbon offsetting” might sound like it’s just sweeping the problem under the carpet. But that couldn’t be less true. In fact, the Kaiser Permanente health organization demonstrated what kind of progress is possible when major hospitals use their buying power to strategically offset their carbon footprints.  

As one of the biggest healthcare presences in eight states plus D.C., the company’s decision to purchase 180 MW of certified green energy — which will bring power to 27 out of its 39 locations — is a big deal. For Kaiser Permanente, it’s a relatively painless way to ensure that the power being used by their many facilities is offset on the greater energy market.  

But it’s good for that greater energy market too because large-scale purchase agreements like these are what allows for the construction of clean energy generation plants in the first place. Think of it as a future-minded investment from a wealthy, pro-social organization — a lead-by-example buy-in that will make similar purchasing decisions even easier to make in the future for medium-sized healthcare networks and even individual practices.  

Go Paperless and More: Regulations and Standards Point the Way  

Modern healthcare IT and even process simulation are helping hospitals use vastly less paper than they used to. In the process, they’re making health data more accessible, mobile and useful — for patients and providers alike.  

Consider the degree to which 2009’s HITECH Act has changed the amount of paper used in modern healthcare. The Act earmarked some $30 billion towards helping U.S. healthcare providers switch to paperless patient records. Interestingly, the fax machine remains the tool of choice for communications between doctors’ offices. But the Act still helped roll out electronic patient health records to 83 percent of hospitals by 2015, up from 2008’s paltry nine percent.  

Hospitals interested in providing better service while also reducing their impact on the natural environment are in good company. The Obama years also saw the passage of the Healthy Hospitals Initiative, which began with 600 of the nation’s largest hospitals and provided new guidelines for attaining greater sustainability. India has had its Energy Conservation Act since 2001, Germany has a new National Action Plan on Energy Efficiency targeting energy reductions in every national enterprise.  

It’s less an option these days and more a mandate: hospitals and other institutions need to commit to sustainability to the maximum extent their success enables them. Greener hospitals are more conducive to healing for a variety of reasons — but they’re also good business.


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