10. Green as can be

In the kind of prognostication you can only find in a bar like Cheers, serendipity ran me into a know-it-all-end-of-the-bar type several months ago that put our future environmental status in stark perspective: Mother Nature will be just fine. If we, as in humans, don’t change the way we interact with the Earth, it will be us who is disposed of; Mother Nature will have done her job: react to imbalance to ensure stability. Weird and uncomfortable as the situation was, the message resonated.

Making our own system green is a small step we can take “to do our part.” But, for a moment, let us move beyond the environmental benefits of going green and focus on our patients. An article at Building Design and Construction puts it well:

Think about this: If you were asked to identify the one building type that needed the highest-quality indoor air, the lowest levels of toxic off-gassing, the greatest access to daylighting and outdoor views for occupants, the most efficient energy and water usage—in other words, the greenest building—what would you think of first?

Hospitals, right? Sure you would. Hospitals should be leading the way in providing patients, their families, doctors, nurses, technicians, and office staff the ultimate sustainable experience. Sick people should have the greenest buildings of all.

But it’s not the case.  Hospitals have been slow to jump on the green revolution. The U.S. Green Building Council reports that only 74 hospital construction projects have been LEED certified, about 2% of all LEED-registered projects. But, as construction booms, and as we continue to build our virtual hospital, the opportunity to build green facilities is upon us.

National Geographic published an article in 2006 ranking the top 10 green hospitals in the U.S. that also discussed the challenges of building green hospitals, “Infection control requires strict cleaning procedures and frequent air changes, which increase the already-high energy costs of the 24/7 operations and sophisticated medical equipment that make hospitals among the greatest energy consumers of any institution.”

A solution.

The Green Guide to Health Care provides a 400+ page document (go to their site and register for a free download of the document) that is “the healthcare sector’s first quantifiable sustainable design toolkit integrating enhanced environmental and health principles and practices into the planning, design, construction, operations and maintenance of their facilities. This Guide provides the healthcare sector with a voluntary, self-certifying metric toolkit of best practices that designers, owners, and operators can use to guide and evaluate their progress towards high performance healing environments.”

The GGHC combines several resources to come up with their assessment principles including the Green Healthcare Construction Guidance Statement (pdf) by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering, LEED, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Labs 21 Environmental Performance Criteria, the Green Building Council of Australia’s Green Star Green Building Rating System, among others.

The aforementioned Building Design and Construction article offers 14 steps to greener hospitals and an analysis of GGHC, “This well-conceived set of guidelines goes far beyond LEED in rating hospital projects. GGHC requires integrated design, something LEED only hints at. It covers both construction and operations, and it offers specific health policy reasons for each of its credits. Unlike LEED, however, it is self-compliant: Building Teams rate their own performance, which to some is a shortcoming. Currently, 79 projects are participating in the GGHC pilot program.”

Principle #10: Building green facilities is a must. The best part: aside from being good for the environment, the elements of a green hospital are great for patients.

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