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Going Green: LEED-HC Construction Standards Boost Hospitals’ Sustainability Efforts

By Bryan Hussey, LEED AP BD+C



With an ever increasing public demand for sustainable materials and practices, healthcare facilities are turning to “green” design and construction to help improve patient outcomes, boost staff retention and lower operating costs. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design for Healthcare Construction (LEED-HC) rating system addresses the unique circumstances of creating sustainable environments of care.

Green Goes Mainstream

A pioneering concept just a decade ago, environmentally sound healthcare construction is becoming the norm. The 2011 Hospital Building Report by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE) and Health Facilities Management magazine reflect that trend. More than two-thirds of respondents said they specify green materials in most or all construction projects, and about 60 percent reported that they evaluate the cost and benefits of green construction methods for building projects.

Why the momentum? For the healthcare industry – major consumers of electricity and producers of waste – environmentally responsible buildings can enhance both their mission and the bottom line. Research shows that patients heal faster, have shorter hospital stays and fewer return visits when treated in facilities with healthy indoor environmental quality and a direct connection to nature. Also, preventing airborne release of contaminants helps extend healthcare’s mission to protect public health. From a business standpoint, building-in significant energy and water efficiencies will return savings throughout a facility’s typically long life cycle, while giving its owner a marketing edge.

Addressing Healthcare’s Realities

The not-for-profit U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) introduced its LEED program in 2000 as a framework for implementing green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. Healthcare facilities in South Florida and nationwide began achieving certification under various LEED categories.

Until now, no LEED category has specifically addressed healthcare facilities’ complex clinical and regulatory requirements. The USGBC introduced LEED-HC as a pilot program in 2007, working with the Green Guide for Healthcare project to produce a construction standard that references healthcare’s unique concerns. For instance, LEED-HC references ASHE’s standard Infection Control Risk Assessment (ICRA) within its criteria for Indoor Environmental Quality. More than 100 hospitals and other healthcare facilities nationwide participated in the LEED-HC pilot. In April 2011, the USGBC officially launched its LEED-HC category to guide design and construction of new facilities as well as major renovations. The rating system is available for inpatient, outpatient and licensed long-term care facilities, medical offices, assisted living facilities and medical education and research centers.

Is LEED-HC the Right Choice?

Through this rating system, the USGBC is embracing “green” design and construction within the healthcare field. Owners will likely find the system’s criteria are well in-line with their expectations for any quality construction project. To determine whether seeking LEED-HC certification makes sense, it’s crucial to assemble an experienced, cross-disciplinary design team in the programming and pre-design phase – the earlier the better. In fact, LEED-HC makes Integrated Project Planning and Design a pre-requisite.

Finding the right team is key. Its members must offer innovative solutions and project the costs of different building systems and specifications. Green building’s rise has spurred a growing array of durable new and recycled construction products at increasingly competitive prices. Accurate estimating will forecast not just construction costs, but “total costs,” showing the impact of energy and water saved throughout a building’s life cycle. Since collaboration to meet project requirements within budget is so important, a design/build or construction management agreement offers the most value to the owner – especially when trying to gauge the feasibility of building LEED.

The project team should include the owner, architect or building designer, engineers and construction manager or general contractor. The team often also includes the controls designer, sustainable design consultant, facilities manager and commissioning agent. If all team members have LEED Accredited Professionals on staff, the owner is assured of better-integrated planning with greater potential savings. Based on the team’s projections and recommendations, the owner can decide whether to pursue LEED-HC or another LEED certification for a particular renovation or new construction project.

Relatively small renovations may be appropriate for LEED for Commercial Interiors certification. In many cases, including “green” features can yield long-term benefits without seeking certification.


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