While yesterday’s healthcare facilities were designed to protect the health of America, in many ways it has done just the opposite. Thinking green can help turn it down the road to recovery.

To begin the healing process there must be development and incorporation of sustainable design initiatives, implemention of building construction standards, and an establishment of building operational practices.

There’s no doubt going green in healthcare will be challenging at best for many hospitals as they begin to rebuild and retrofit older facilities with antiquated infrastructures. Luckett & Farley has seen these challenges and met them head on.

The Garden of Hope at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center
The Garden of Hope at the James Graham Brown Cancer Center

We know that as many healthcare organizations begin taking on sustainable design initiatives, they face many unique challenges. Issues such as 24/7 operations, extremely high energy and water use intensity, chemical use for maintaining antiseptic conditions, infection control requirements, and an array of formidable regulatory requirements, will pose significant obstacles to the implementation of currently accepted green principals. But with challenges also come opportunities.

Today, the healthcare industry represents the largest sector of the US economy. It also generates the largest toxic load on the environment.

Evidence based design shows that the environmental improvements made with sustainable buildings, such as introducing more natural light, creating meditation areas and “healing gardens,” can have a direct impact on a patient’s length of stay, will lessen the reliance on medications, and can significantly reduce physical and mental stress.

Even though the healthcare industry contributes to  the problem, it has demonstrated that it can be part of the solution. It is an industry with massive buying power, as well as the value it places on health as part of its core mission. It has forced a shift in the market place towards more sustainable products and  practices. For instance, cancer treatment centers are being built without materials linked to cancer, health clinics are now free of chemicals that trigger asthma, and many hospitals are now serving fresh food grown by local farmers. There was also a time when hospital patients became even sicker just from being hospitalized. However, with enhanced infection control practices and increased indoor air quality, this trend is declining.

Building sustainability aligns with most of the health care industries broader goals by promoting the health of its building occupants and surrounding community. High performance green buildings will cultivate a healing environment for its patients as well as more comfortable and productive workplaces for the staff. They also provide clear business benefits by reducing energy use and lowering operating costs over the
lifetime of the building.

Since historically the health care industry has been part of the problem, we have the opportunity as design professionals to play a significant role in helping to form the language for high performance healing environments and highlight the associated health benefits. Through our collaborative efforts, and the incorporation of sustainable design principals we employ, we will play a small role in improving patient care, encourage the healing process and protect the health of America.

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