by Eileen Weber
A trip to the hospital is not exactly on everyone’s To Do list. With harsh chemicals and bad air quality, hospitals are sometimes the unhealthiest places to be. From limiting their toxic waste to reducing their energy and water usage, the surgical scrubs aren’t the only things that are green, however.
Hospitals are recycling light bulbs and batteries. They are using green cleaning products. Even choosing to switch from cotton mop heads to microfiber saves thousands of gallons of water every year. They are even incorporating nature as part of the healing process with rooftop gardens and balconies open for fresh air. Studies have shown that patients who have some connection to nature have lower stress levels and recover more quickly.
But it doesn’t stop there. Practicing a healthy green business is great. But it’s even better in a green building.
According to an article dated March 27th in The Boston Globe, more hospitals are seeing the long-term benefit of renovating in an environmentally friendly way. They have included everything from LED lighting to high efficiency glass to low VOC paints and adhesives to roof top solar panels.
Here in Connecticut, there are a few hospitals in particular that stand out in their quest to be green. Yale-New Haven and Bridgeport Hospitals have either renovated their space to be energy efficient and LEED-certified or changed their daily routines to be more environmentally-friendly.
According to their December 2007 press release, Yale-New Haven Hospital was the first in the state to register for LEED certification. Smilow Cancer Hospital, the hospital’s latest addition slated to open at the end of this year, boasts local building materials, enhanced ventilation systems, low VOC paints and adhesives, as well as a healing rooftop garden, to name a few. Yale-New Haven has long been associated with environmentally friendly practices.
Bridgeport Hospital has been no slouch either when it comes to the environment. According to an article dated August 20, 2008 in The Connecticut Post, the hospital started going green about 10 years ago. The hospital is a member of Practice Greenhealth, a non-profit organization geared toward sustainable health care. They have focused on reducing their toxic waste as well as recycling equipment and using eco-friendly products.
“We’ve taken a number of steps toward a green initiative,” said John Cappiello, Media Relations Coordinator for Bridgeport Hospital. “We’ve done everything from saving on electrical costs to recycling literally tons of stuff.”
Cappiello went on to say that the hospital is planning a “Green Awareness Day” in their lobby later this month.
“The hospital set up a Green Team Committee about six months ago,” said Marc Brunetti, Administrative Director for Support Operations at Bridgeport Hospital in a recent e-mail. “It is made up of staff from all over the hospital: nursing, operations, food and nutrition, laboratory, radiology, etc. It is a very passionate and dynamic group of staff who all are committed to providing a green environment.”
Brunetti also said the hospital reprocesses certain types of used surgical supplies. They also return any unopened or unused pharmaceuticals. They even use green cleaning products and have reduced the amount of chemicals used to clean the floors by 85%.
It’s not just here in the Northeast. Skansa USA Building Inc., one of the leading green construction groups working on numerous LEED-certified projects, has worked in healthcare, higher education, and aviation across the globe. Here in the U.S., they’ve constructed environmentally friendly hospitals from Boston to Oregon and everywhere in between.
“We’ve actually got a number of projects we’re working on,” said Jay Weisberger, a Field Communications Manager for Skansa USA out of North Carolina. “In fact, we’ve got a green patient room as a model in Boston.”
“We’ve taken this model all over the country,” said Joe Reilly, Project Executive for Healthcare at Skansa USA. “We’re excited about creating a more efficient patient room with features like anti-microbial laminated cabinets, sustainable flooring and high performance lighting. We also use a lot of natural light.”
Reilly said they’ve had tremendous feedback on the Green Patient Lab model. It is currently at the offices of Anshen + Allen, the original designers in San Francisco that Skansa USA partnered with to create it.
“It’s not a solution. It’s a room of ideas,” said Reilly of the Green Patient Lab. “It’s sustainable design and construction from the user’s perspective. This is thinking outside the box for healthcare.”
In Alabama, the new Benjamin Russell Hospital for Children of the Children’s Health System in Birmingham is seeking LEED certification as they nearly double their size with the latest expansion. Several months ago, the hospital decided they wanted the renovation to be environmentally friendly. They were fortunate to receive about $5 million from a donor who was enthusiastic about supporting that goal.
“We’re working with lumber from sustainable forests and recycled concrete from the demolition as aggregate for the parking lot,” said Mike Devitt, Executive Vice President for Facilities and Technology at Children’s Hospital. “We’re doing as much as we can to divert waste from the landfill.”
Devitt also said it was a goal of the hospital to recycle as much material as possible, including donating the planting material outside the new construction to the local zoo. The hospital also recycles as much paper products and cardboard as possible, even going so far as to ask their suppliers not to deliver materials in cardboard. Devitt also said they encourage their staff to carpool to reduce their overall carbon footprint.
“We’ll be using low VOC paints and adhesives as well,” he said. “Many of our patients will have respiratory problems and it will be necessary to use those kinds of products.”
While hospitals are often viewed as sterile institutions that house the sick, many of them are taking new steps to change that. But with more of them taking the environment seriously, your next visit may be a bit more enjoyable.
Check out how hospitals have gone green on Boston GreenScene!
Photos courtesy of Skansa USA and Children's Health System.