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Greening the Healthcare Industry


Healthcare and the environment are two of the hottest topics for discussion right now, especially with highly contested presidential campaigns this summer. For those of us in the construction industry, the two come together as the healthcare market and represent one of the largest market segments, but one of the slowest to adapt to the green building movement. Greening the healthcare industry is no doubt a sizable task, however with knowledge of the tools available, those involved in the design, construction and operation of these facilities can realize the potential that exists as healthcare becomes one of the largest green markets in America.

Healthcare facilities, particularly hospitals, are complex and require a number of unique considerations in their design, construction and operation. These facilities have strict indoor air-quality requirements and consume a significant amount of energy due to 24 hour-a-day operation and water use relating to infection control measures. They also generate millions of tons of solid waste that include toxic and other bio-hazardous materials. This presents a challenge, but also an opportunity to make a significant difference in a large percentage of construction and renovation projects, while also improving the operations of these facilities.

Resources and Ratings Systems

Today, there are many resources available to help tackle sustainability initiatives in the healthcare industry. Though not a rating system, the first “quantifiable” guide to enhancing healthcare facilities is the Green Guide for Healthcare (GGHC). The GGHC’s structure is familiar to those who have used the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system owing to a close relationship between the two organizations. Until the launch of the GGHC guide in 2003, those interested in greening a healthcare facility could only rely on LEED for New Construction (LEED-NC), a rating system initially created for the office building market. A significant difference between GGHC and LEED-NC is that GGHC includes operational prerequisites and credits much like the LEED for Existing Buildings (LEED-EB) rating system.

In the near future, the question of whether to pursue LEED-NC certification in conjunction with LEED-EB certification vs. following the recommendations of the Green Guide will be much easier. The USGBC, in close collaboration with the GGHC, will soon launch LEED for Healthcare, a specific rating system for the healthcare industry which was developed to meet the unique needs of the healthcare market, including patient care facilities, medical offices, assisted living facilities and medical education and research centers. This new rating system will incorporate design, construction and operational requirements much like GGHC or when LEED-NC is combined with LEED-EB.

The Benefits of a Green Healthcare Industry

As a market segment, the healthcare industry stands to benefit as much as, if not far more than other market segments implementing green strategies and principles. As the industry becomes greener the benefits will become clearer to stakeholders and decision makers and the healthcare market will become a primary driver of the green movement into mainstream design and construction practices. The potential benefits of greener healthcare facilities include reduced energy and water consumption, but also higher order returns such as the related health benefits of being treated in a green building. We all have an interest in making our healing environments as healthy as possible and so far green building certification has proven to be the best method possible to achieve this goal.

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