A hospital represents an important community service. But hospitals can also represent a tremendous drain on community resources. From snarled traffic and ambulance noise pollution to the energy consumption. In fact, in the U.S. hospitals are third only to food service and food sales facilities in how much energy per square foot they use. Making the shift from traditional construction practices to more green processes can have a significant impact on the community, and in turn on the patients, the facility serves.
What Green Means
There is no official definition of the term “green” or “green construction.” The idea behind green construction is that there are tools and processes that can make the construction and operation of a hospital more sustainable and friendlier to the local environment. The green terminology can apply to both how the hospital is constructed and how it operates once it is open.
One of the most common ways to demonstrate adherence to green construction standards is through LEED certification. More than 300 hospitals and healthcare facilities in the U.S. have earned or are working towards LEED certification, according to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). LEED certification is deserving of a post of its own, but the short definition is that LEED is an acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design. The LEED certification process was developed by the USGBC. To earn certification, facilities must take certain steps towards green practices during the building and use of the facility. Different LEED standards exist for different types of buildings. Hospital construction and healthcare facilities fall under the LEED Healthcare standards.
How Green Hospital Construction Options Improve Facility Outcomes
While environmental concerns and future sustainability for the planet are legitimate concerns on their own, a healthcare facility will rarely make the decision to pursue green construction without tangible proof that it will improve outcomes for patients and staff.
Improved Community Presence
The community contributions that a healthcare facility can make when it takes into consideration the sustainability of the facility can be quite broad. For instance, one way to improve the green credentials of a facility is through initial site selection. Is the facility in a place that is easy to access by public transit and that makes sense for local traffic patterns? Public transit access can make a huge difference for both staff and patients traveling to the hospital, and can be measurably better for the community and the environment due to air pollution, parking, and other factors.
Better Staff Engagement
Staff engagement at healthcare facilities is essential to the patient experience. An engaged staff is likely to be more committed to providing excellent care and can help to lower turnover rates. One recent study compared the LEED certified Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas in Austin with two non-LEED facilities from the same healthcare company. The results showed that staff at the green hospital were less likely to leave and more likely to be engaged in their work. The results of this comparison show the impact of the fact that the idea of green building goes beyond power saving measures and towards creating a healthcare environment that is more comfortable and welcoming for everyone.
Patient outcomes are the most important measure of a healthcare facility’s success. While more research is certainly needed into how green construction influences patient outcomes, studies do suggest a positive correlation. For example, a number of studies have found that patients who stay in sunlit rooms have, on average, shorter stays. Natural lighting is a part of a green facility design because it saves on energy. These results are just one example of how environmental healthcare facility design does more than lower energy bills -- it helps patients.
Green Construction Tools & Resources
If you are new to the concept of green design or are ready to start working towards more sustainable hospital construction and green design, you are not alone. Check out some of the resources below for more information: