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David May, Assistant Managing Editor/Features
David May, Assistant Managing Editor/Features

Give healthcare the green light

Energy conservation, resource stewardship need to be global priorities


By David May
Posted: October 31, 2011 - 12:01 am ET
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Judging by recent headlines, it might appear that the “greening” of the American economy is now sporting a black eye.

The ongoing investigation into federal loans to the now defunct California-based solar panel manufacturer Solyndra has raised some critical policy questions. And when it folded in late August, Solyndra was reportedly the third U.S. solar-energy company to file bankruptcy in three weeks as the industry faces intense pricing pressures from overseas competitors, especially in China.

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Other vendors also are seeing a less-energetic market. Last week, analysts cited some soft numbers for industrial giant General Electric Co., a big player in renewable-energy markets. A report in the Wall Street Journal noted the company's sales and shipments of wind turbines had fallen nearly 50% on year in the second quarter. Again, competition from China was a factor.

Then there's the continuing debate, especially on the presidential campaign trail, over just how many energy-related “green-collar jobs” have been created in this country and what the outlook for growth might be.

So what about all these dark clouds on the horizon? You wouldn't see them based on the innovative green projects being implemented at a growing number of U.S. hospitals. There the forecast remains mostly sunny. And when it comes to the greening of their facilities, healthcare executives see the color of money—millions of dollars saved on energy that can be put to use elsewhere in their operations. It's even more vital in a tough economy when revenue is scarce.

In this week's special report, Modern Healthcare reporter Andis Robeznieks looks at the Energy Star program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and how it's being used by hospitals and health systems to not only cut costs but also improve quality of care. One example: Installation of energy-efficient lighting at one hospital also sterilizes the air in the patient-care space, helping to fight infections.

We should all be familiar with Energy Star and its bright aqua logo that can be found affixed to a variety of home appliances. It means that when it comes to consumption of electricity, the devices are certified to be especially stingy. It's the same principle with healthcare facilities.

While only 134 hospitals have earned that designation so far, interest in the program is growing, along with participation in the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, commonly known as LEED. That program, in addition to energy initiatives, also focuses on environmentally sustainable construction and other resource management.

As Robeznieks reports, healthcare facilities, because of their 24/7 operations and increasing utilization of high-consumption technologies, are top-tier candidates for energy-reduction initiatives that can deliver big savings to the bottom line.

Reducing energy usage also is one of 10 goals in a new international agenda titled “Global Green and Healthy Hospitals,” issued this month by the international organization Health Care Without Harm. In addition to the energy focus, the project targets water conservation, waste reduction and chemical/drug management, among other objectives.

“The health sector itself is paradoxically contributing to environmental health problems, even as it attempts to address their impacts,” according to the document's introduction. “Through the products and technologies it deploys, the resources it consumes, the waste it generates and the buildings it constructs … the health sector is an unintentional contributor to trends that undermine public health.”

So energy conservation, with a particular emphasis on renewable resources and advanced technologies, must continue to get the green light—inside and outside of the healthcare industry. Now with the planet's population projected to top the 7 billion mark as of Oct. 31, resource stewardship needs to be a top priority the world over.


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