A green hospital can save money and energy whilst providing better patient outcomes

green hospitals, the venture magazineHospitals are meant to be bastions of well-being, temples of health. Doctors and nurses work to help patients live long lives. Sustainability works toward keeping the planet healthy and long-lived.

So it would seem fitting that the green hospital concept be prevalent. Yet, according to the Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA), less than 1 per cent of the buildings on its Green Star list are hospitals. Several health care facilities, however, are looking to change that.

Changing Attitudes 

Hospital administrations like to keep costs as low as possible. So the upfront expense of green initiatives has made them a non-starter in the past. But as methods of sustainability have scaled efficiently, it’s become clear that a green hospital can save a great deal of money in the long run. Being open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, hospitals use a lot of water and a lot of energy. Cutting costs in those areas can really pay off.

Doctors and nurses work long hours in an environment full of stress and pathogens. Keeping them healthy, mentally and physically, is in the best interest of hospitals. Whilst a step such as building a garden for workers and patients to retreat to will cost money, it can lead to fewer missed shifts and better health outcomes, resulting in hidden savings.

The new Royal Adelaide Hospital, opened in 2017, earned a four-star Green Star rating from the GBCA last year. “While a lot may be said about our state-of-the-art technology and medical equipment, what we have at the new Royal Adelaide Hospital also reflects a commitment to a patient-centred environmentally ‘green’ design, focussing on natural light, therapeutic gardens, as well as utilising waste heat as energy, water conservation and indoor environmental quality,” Jenny Richter, CEO of Central Adelaide Local Health Network, said in  a press release. “Creating a green environment also goes a long way in benefitting our staff, helping to boost energy and reduce stress levels, which can notably improve performance and delivery of patient care.”

Extraordinary Measures

The New South Wing of Flinders Medical Centre heats its water — some of which is harvested rainwater — with solar power. Those initiatives save $400,000 per year and reduced water usage by 20 per cent. A zoned air conditioning system delivers hot and cool air only to where it is needed, cutting energy use in half. These measures reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 4,160 tonnes.

Austin Hospital’s Olivia Newton-John Cancer & Wellness Centre is designed around a central courtyard, providing ample natural light, fresh air and ambient views. Half the rooms have courtyard views, including several therapy rooms for spa treatments. “With natural light, open space, and comfortable welcoming atmosphere, together we have created a really special space,” Newton-John said when the centre opened. The gardens are maintained by non-potable water from a 120,000-litre rainwater storage, which also provides the water for toilets and urinals in the facility.

Its walkway-filled courtyards and rooftop gardens are part of what earned Sunshine Coast University Hospital a six-star Green Star rating. The 49,000 square metres of green space cover nearly a quarter of the campus. Built to replace an earthquake-damaged building, the Forte Health Building in Christchurch, New Zealand, can withstand a one-in-2,500-years quake and was NZ’s first Green Star medical centre.

Architects of Health

green hospitals, the venture magazineTo maximise efficiency and with a unique set of clientele in recovering patients, the green hospital designers and builders had their work cut out for them. Sunshine Coast University Hospital was inspired by its surroundings. “The Sunshine Coast’s pristine landscape was a key inspiration for the project’s design,” Martin Wilshire, design manager for Place Design Group told Healthcare Design. “The landscape architecture is a key element in the healing focus of the hospital’s design, with numerous areas for gathering and quiet contemplation set within lush subtropical plantings.” Sustainability consultants at Aurecon provided design assistance to HDR and Architectus and estimate the green hospital uses 20 per cent less energy at full occupancy than a comparable facility.

AECOM led the engineering efforts for the New South Wing at Flinders Medical Centre. “Our philosophy was to minimise the environmental footprint of the project and create a healthy environment for patients, visitors, and staff,” Kriston Symons, who led the AECOM team, told the GBCA. “With this in mind, the extensive evidence connecting good IEQ (indoor environment quality) to faster recovery rates and improved staff and patient health made IEQ credits a natural focus for the project.”

Fletcher Construction used precast seismic structural system technology in the steel construction at the Forte Health Building to ensure the hospital would be able to operate in the event of a major disaster. The structural system goes three storeys underground and is designed to move and absorb energy during a large earthquake.

GBCA chief executive Romilly Madew is happy to see green hospital development provide the opportunity for improved patient outcomes. “Research from the World Green Building Council has shown that incorporating green design in hospital infrastructure can deliver an 8.5 per cent reduction in hospital stays, 15 per cent faster recovery rates, a 22 per cent reduction in the need for pain medication and an 11 per cent reduction in secondary infections.”

“If office workers are benefiting from a healthy sustainable workplace, then so should sick people and their doctors and nurses,” she said. Now that’s a healthy proposition.