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Are You Ready to Go Green?
Sustainable designs are entering the mainstream. From simple blueprint tweaks to major changes in design philosophy, here's how to join the movement.
Janet Brown
Publish Date: January 10, 2009   |  Tags:   Environmental Stewardship

We're in the midst of a green building boom, thanks to a greater awareness of how sustainable designs promote energy conservation, create healing environments and help retain productive and satisfied employees. In 2004, Boulder Community Foothills Hospital in Colorado became the first healthcare facility to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification. Today, 350 healthcare construction projects are registered with LEED. Refer to the Green Guide for Health Care (www.gghc.org) if you're interested in joining the eco-friendly construction movement. Here are a few of its sustainable design suggestions.

1. Make a promise. Draft a mission statement that guides the goals of your construction project. The statement should focus your energy and resources on the principles of integrated design: safeguarding the health of your employees, patients, the local community and the global environment. When making planning decisions, always consider the GGHC's three core values: economic, environmental and social.

2. Tread lightly. During construction, work with contractors who promote environmentally friendly construction, including controlling soil erosion, waterway sedimentation and airborne dust. To minimize land disturbance, create a site access plan that places temporary construction offices, staging areas, equipment parking and access roads on the new building and paving footprint.

When developing your construction site, try to work with the existing terrain instead of disrupting the natural landscape. Conserve or restore natural areas whenever possible to keep native growth intact. Leave undisturbed areas 40 feet beyond your building's perimeter, 10 feet beyond walkways, parking surfaces or patios, and 15 feet beyond primary access roads and utility trenches. Your parking capacity shouldn't exceed minimum local zoning requirements.

Can you stack your facility's design to build up instead of out? Can a parking garage be built under the facility in place of a parking lot? Is it possible to share facilities with neighboring buildings? Can you build on previously developed sites instead of disturbing undeveloped land? Ask your design team those questions when reviewing potential building sites.

3. Promote mass transit. If at all possible, build your facility within walking distance of commuter rails or bus lines. Include walking paths to stations or provide adequate shelter and security if the transit stops are on your proposed site. If you can't build near mass transit, consider providing a shuttle service to commuter stations. Look at designating five percent of your total parking capacity for employees who carpool, and provide secured bike racks for staff who choose to pedal their way to work.

4. Limit light pollution. Try to limit the artificial light that pollutes the environment, primarily by placing light fixtures in areas where maximum luminous intensity hits opaque surfaces instead of escaping through exterior windows. Light exterior areas only for safety and comfort, limiting illumination to employee and visitor parking areas and exterior walkways. Set all non-emergency lighting to shut off during non-business hours.

5. Embrace the great outdoors. The GGHC notes the benefits of letting natural light into your facility: improved physiological states and moods of employees and patients; reduced stress experienced by patients, their families and the staff who care for them; and quicker patient post-op recovery times.

Provide your staff and patients with direct access to outdoor, sun-splashed retreat areas. As a general rule, outdoor retreats for patients and staff should cover five percent and two percent, respectively, of your facility's total footprint. Be creative with the outdoor designs: include gardens, small waterfalls and comfortable, shaded seating.

Plan a series of small interior seating areas that connect staff and patients with the outdoors. Try to situate the seating so it faces trees, framed views of distant landmarks or pedestrian activity on an urban street. Consider installing large windows on exterior walls and adding skylights to bring natural light to interior spaces.

6. Conserve water. According to the GGHC, 20 percent of urban water is used for drinking or sanitary purposes, while the other 80 percent doesn't require treatment to potable standards. Consider including a dual water distribution system in your facility's design. The GGHC notes that the use of reclaimed water for certain applications, like closed-loop cooling systems for non-critical medical devices, can reduce the burden on your local municipal water supply. Place sensor operators on urinals and handwashing sinks and use low-flow fixtures for all urinals, showers and toilets.

7. Save energy. Estimate the minimum level of energy efficiency for your proposed design, and aim for an energy rating score of 75 or higher using the Environmental Protection Agency's Energy Star system (www.energystar.gov). Reduce ozone depletion by avoiding HVAC systems that use chlorofluorocarbon (CFC)-based refrigerants. Consider opportunities to use green power, including solar, wind, geo-thermal, biomass or low-impact hydro sources.

Put systems in place to measure your energy consumption over time. For example, meter the energy use of electrical, mechanical and air distribution systems. Further reduce your facility's carbon footprint by purchasing energy efficient equipment. Aim to make 75 percent of your equipment — like computers, printers and copiers in the business office and imaging, sterilization and monitors in clinical areas — Energy Star qualified or in the top 25th percentile of energy consumption for the corresponding equipment class.

Designing your facility to allow for the inflow of natural light will also help decrease overall energy costs by 30 percent, according to the GGHC, which notes that natural light reduces lighting energy costs by 50 percent to 80 percent, and related HVAC energy used to remove the heat of electric lighting by as much as 20 percent.

Also consider installing occupancy sensors to reduce lighting use in equipment rooms, storage areas, staff lounges and public and staff rest rooms. Dimming switches lower uniform lighting levels in non-clinical areas like conference rooms and staff lounges.

8. Use eco-friendly materials. Try to employ building materials salvaged from other projects (beams, flooring, door frames or bricks, for example), containing rapidly renewable materials (like bamboo flooring, wool carpet, linoleum flooring and plastics produced from bio-based materials) or harvested and processed within 500 miles of your construction project.

Use building materials with minimal toxins to promote healing environments in your new facility. Install low-mercury lighting, wood surfaces certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and other surface materials with no added urea-formaldehyde resins. Shop for carpeting that contains recycled materials and look for "Green Label Plus" certified carpets, an independent testing lab designation for products meeting low chemical emissions criteria.

Avoid furniture that contains persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic chemicals (PBTs) — which include mercury, cadmium, lead or chlorinated compounds — in its components, textiles, finishes, dyes and wood. Going with mesh seating instead of foam is usually a green choice.

9. Manage waste. Profile or estimate the types and amounts of waste generated at your facility to identify opportunities for waste prevention, toxicity reduction, improved segregation, responsible donation, recycling and material management programs. Design easily accessible staging areas for sharps containers and paper, corrugated cardboard, glass, plastic and metal receptacles. You'll want to consider closed fluid-waste management systems for protecting staff from infectious liquids. The systems must be planned for and installed during the construction of your facility.

On the Web

To download a free copy of the Green Guide for Health Care, visit www.gghc.org.