In 2021, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) established the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity to address the various threats climate change poses to public health. This mission is also relevant for healthcare facilities – from hospitals to treatment centers to clinics – and organizations in this sector have been facing growing demands to reduce carbon emissions, enhance the efficiency of their buildings and manage other sustainability expectations. Calls to action are coming from patients, staff, investors, communities and local and federal governing bodies, leading many healthcare leaders to bump sustainability to the top of their priority lists.
Yet constructing or retrofitting environmentally conscious buildings is a major commitment and decision-makers in healthcare, as in other sectors, are up against shrinking budgets, rising costs and competing financial priorities. Organizations just starting on their journeys may find it difficult to know where to begin, while those further along may wonder how to scale their green initiatives or manage complex stakeholder expectations. Or they might need support meeting state or federal compliance requirements, set by sustainability regulators like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) or the Department of Energy (DOE), and tracking their progress. Regardless of the specific challenges at hand, healthcare leaders remain eager to invest in sustainability – and build relationships with likeminded partners – to reap a host of benefits for people and the planet.
Better patient outcomes
When patients visit healthcare facilities, it’s often because they’re injured, sick or living with a health condition – or they’re the family member or loved one of someone who is. Therefore, many of the people walking through the doors are physically or emotionally vulnerable. Through this lens, it becomes even more important to create the most comfortable and safe environments possible for patients, visitors and staff. Healthy building improvements result in better patient experience and overall quality of care, while also reducing costs and maximizing resources.
Short and long-term cost savings
Implementing green initiatives will result in organization-wide savings. Not only do efficient buildings generate significantly lower utility bills, they also decrease the chances of unexpected equipment failures that require costly repairs. Additionally, there are creative opportunities to save or earn money, such as accessing capital through lenders looking for green commitments or investing in rooftop solar panels to sell energy back to the grid. Since sustainability is a top-level concern for leaders across all industries and jurisdictions, there’s never been a better time to access affordable financing for projects, whether through government programs, public-private partnerships or performance contracting.
Digital technology needs to be a central component of organizations’ plans to meet decarbonization and renewable energy goals and create more efficient buildings. There’s an ever-growing array of technologies available today, from standalone solutions to comprehensive as-a-Service (aaS) offerings, that can be tailored to match unique objectives. For example, if reducing energy consumption is a priority, occupancy sensors can be installed to automatically shut down buildings systems in unused rooms. Similarly, touchless environments can save energy by allowing clinical staff to control and optimize room elements like lighting and temperature through mobile, voice or web interfaces. Or, if measurement and reporting are key objectives, organizations can leverage integrated facility command centers or similar software to monitor building operations from a single dashboard.
Sustainability efforts in healthcare have a high return on investment and are worth leaders’ time, budget and resources. But one question remains – how? While the process will look slightly different for every organization, it typically starts with establishing baselines and asking questions like, “What technology, if any, do we currently have in place across our building systems? What are we currently spending on each of these components?” Third-party audits can evaluate everything from air quality to HVAC performance to energy and water use, highlighting where there’s room for improvement. Then, leaders can nail down their top sustainability goals and determine what innovative technology is needed to bridge the gap between where they are and where they’d like to be.
No one expects healthcare leaders to execute on all their green goals straight out of the gate – they just expect them to be proactive, create a plan and take consistent action to hit their targets over time. By doing so, healthcare facilities can rise to their potential as instruments of healing.
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