Environment-minded healthcare architects and hospital designers have been enthusiastically waiting for and helping in the development of a sustainable-construction rating system aimed specifically at healthcare facilities. But now they're nervous that the final product will be something far less comprehensive than they had hoped for and may even signal a step backward.
Designers fear construction-rating effort will fall short
The most recognized system for assessing a facility's environmental friendliness is the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design rating system. Currently, healthcare facilities are assessed using the same rating criteria as office buildings. A nuanced controversy is erupting over the “second public comment draft” of the USGBC's LEED for Healthcare, the rating system the organization is designing specifically to assess the environmental friendliness of healthcare facilities.
The public comment period was scheduled to end May 18, and some observers are concerned that the new version removed rating “credits” dealing with the removal and avoidance of materials containing “persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic” pollutants, or PBTs, such as mercury, dioxin and the widely used polyvinyl chloride from which vinyl flooring, siding, pipes and conduit are made.
John Kouletsis, Kaiser Permanente's national director of strategy, planning and design, said LEED for Healthcare is a tool the industry has been waiting for. “Hospitals have been in a weird position, because we're quite a different business,” he said. “But, in the absence of that tool, healthcare facilities have been evaluated in sort of an office environment.”
A recognized “foundational reference document” being used to develop LEED for Healthcare is the Green Guide for Health Care tool kit. Though both have been developed independently, there has been much cross-pollination, with the USGBC using the guide to develop criteria for the LEED system, and the creators of the Green Guide borrowing heavily from the LEED rating structure to build its own program.
According to the USGBC, there are currently 99 LEED-certified healthcare facilities with 857 registered projects in the pipeline.
Although the PBT-related credits have been removed from the LEED for Healthcare draft, Brendan Owens, vice president of LEED technical development, said they have been moved into a LEED Pilot Credit Library where they are being tested in all construction sectors and have been given more prominence as a result. Owens also explained that the USGBC 's testing of its criteria is driven more by the collection of data than the passage of time, so there is no telling when a sufficient amount of data will be collected to justify establishing a PBT-related rating.
In the meantime, there is concern that the construction industry will adopt guidelines that don't address PBTs, never look back and push the more stringent Green Guide to the curb. “People would like to get all the elements in Green Guide for Health Care adopted by the U.S. Green Building Council in LEED for Healthcare,” said Gina Pugliese, vice president of the Premier healthcare alliance's Safety Institute. She explained that, if LEED for Healthcare doesn't address PBTs, “It may backtrack the progress we've made in getting these toxins out of the environment.”
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