Hospitals are awakening to a Walmart idea: sustainability pays. And there is more than ROI. It's also, in the health setting, an agent of healing. “You can’t afford not to [have sustainable facilities],” says Mark Webb, senior vice president of facilities administration, University Health System, San Antonio, Texas. Last year, the health system opened a six-story clinical pavilion on its Robert B. Green Campus in San Antonio, earning a Gold rating from the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED program. The clinical pavilion includes efficient equipment and building operating systems designed to use 33 percent less energy than required by code, reflective paving and roofing materials that reduce the heat-island effect and a system for harvesting condensate from the central energy plant for power generation and landscape irrigation, among other sustainability features. The health system expects to receive LEED Gold as well for similar measures taken in the design of the 10-story, 420-bed Sky Tower at University Hospital, which opened this April. For either project, “we didn’t do anything with a payback over three years,” says Webb. MaineGeneral Health anticipates a similar payback period for sustainable features of the Alfond Center for Health, a 640,000-square-foot, 192-bed replacement hospital in Augusta, a LEED Gold project that was completed under budget. The hospital’s heat-recovery system is expected to pay for itself in a year and the high-performance exterior, which Stein says was designed to be “as efficient as possible,” within three years. The geothermal heat pump system at Methodist Olive Branch (Miss.) Hospital, a 210,000-square-foot, 100-bed facility, was “a big cost” for Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, Memphis, Tenn., says Richard Kelley, PE, LEED AP BD+C, project manager, corporate facilities management. The system, which involved drilling 200 bore holes 300 feet deep, has a life-cycle cost estimated at upward of $600,000. But with energy savings projected to result in a five-year return on investment, “we could do it with a clear conscience,” Kelley says. Through a combination of conservation and renewable energy production, Gundersen Health System, La Crosse, Wis., is working to become energy-independent by the end of 2014, a project that “saves the organization millions and millions of dollars every year,” says Kari Houser, director of facility planning, construction and project management. The system’s new hospital, the Legacy Building, opened in January in La Crosse. The 430,000-square-foot, 325-bed hospital is designed to operate at 115 kBtu per square foot per year, which the hospital calculates will save about $660,000 annually at today’s energy rates; this is compared with benchmark median hospitals in the region, which require 250 kBtu per square foot per year. The Legacy Building’s energy savings are due in large part to a geothermal heat pump system that comprises 150 wells each 400 feet deep. Over the 50- to 100-year life of the Legacy Building, energy, water and labor costs will only go up, making the hospital’s efficiency measures even more valuable, Houser notes. “We’re making decisions that will help reduce the cost of care,” she says.
“How sustainable health care facilities are providing bottom-line benefits for health care organizations (Sustainable performance | Hospitals size up the value proposition of going green.”