Facility Dude

Three Hurdles Keeping Hospitals From Embracing Sustainability

By Kate Donnelly
Nov 06, 2015

Healthcare, Facilities Management, Energy Management

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The payoff when healthcare facilities adopt sustainable practices has been proven time and again.

Facility managers face many hurdles when going green. "There is a preponderance of evidence that a greener healthcare enterprise is not only affordable, but in most cases it results in an improved cost structure," writes Kathy Gerwig, vice president and environmental stewardship officer at Kaiser Permanente, in a report by the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

The report points to research that suggests a program focused on energy conservation, waste reduction and efficiency could save the healthcare industry more than $15 billion during one decade.

Yet despite the long-term savings that can stem from investing in sustainable facilities and operations, the healthcare industry lags other sectors when it comes to greening its facilities, the study found. Here are three hurdles that may be holding facility managers back:

Tight Budgets

Facility managers at hospitals big and small are tasked with stretching tightly scrutinized budgets for maximum efficiency.

"Just like in most industries, health systems are asking their facility departments to do more with less. It's very difficult for some facility departments to get the time and often the funding to do what they need to do with even the systems that they have," Jim Bean, a controls lead, told industry news site FacilityCare.

When making a case for a large capital investment project, such as an energy efficient water system or revamped recycling systems, facility managers must balance those requests against pressure to invest in patient technology that might have a more immediate return on investment.

A Metrics Shortage

Making the case for a capital upgrade, such as installing low-flow toilets throughout the hospital becomes much more difficult if a facility isn't already equipped to track energy efficiency and waste. Without the metrics to show the water (and money) wasted by the existing plumbing, predicting future savings is challenging.

That's why facility managers who are invested in the long-term efficiency and sustainability of their buildings should consider tracking now. Even if capital outlays aren't in the near future, you'll have the data on hand to accurately and confidently make your case when the time is right to go green.

High Occupancy

When El Camino Hospital, in Los Gatos, California, integrated environmental sensors into its patient rooms, it allowed facility managers to set up systems to automatically lower the heating and lighting when rooms are unoccupied. That building automation represents huge energy and cost savings for the facility.

Yet for hospitals and other healthcare facilities that are consistently at or near capacity, closing down rooms for the project installation phase can be a logistical challenge. Carefully tracking room occupancy rates may yield insights into the best month or time of week to move forward with this type of project installation, while breaking the project into phases can minimize its impact.

Again, having metrics-backed numbers on hand that show the long-term payoff for the short-term inconvenience can go a long way toward convincing staff and patients alike that the upgrade is worth it.

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