This article was originally posted on HIT Consultant.
The International Health Care Without Harm organization has stated: “Climate change is damaging human health today and will have a greater impact in the future.” In response to this growing challenge, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services called on the healthcare industry, which is responsible for 4.4% of global CO2 emissions, to reduce emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieve Net Zero by 2050. Rising to meet the need, more than 60 of the largest hospitals and healthcare sector companies pledged to do so.
Their plans to reduce greenhouse gasses include switching to renewable energy, reporting publicly on progress, conducting an inventory of their Scope 3 emissions, and developing climate resilience plans. Before a hospital can even start a climate resilience plan, it’s a good idea for healthcare organizations to figure out their baseline energy use. There is hardware and software on the market that can help hospitals track, analyze, set baselines and improve energy efficiency. For facilities managers and sustainability teams seeking investment in resource management solutions, it can be helpful to remind administrators who control budgets that reducing energy costs can demonstrate an immediate ROI.
Energy Management Tools To Set Baselines, Increase Understanding
Knowing when and where the most energy is being used and being able to see if sustainability efforts are having the intended impact is tremendous leverage for teams tasked with lowering their organization’s emissions. Healthcare sustainability managers that are required to track and report progress should consider automated systems to reduce the error and the expense associated with manual tracking. The first step towards reducing energy use is to track, measure, and benchmark current energy use. Accurate energy tracking and management tools help hospitals identify underperforming buildings, verify the effectiveness of any efficiency efforts, and identify opportunities for improvement. After there is an understanding of where the most energy is being used, healthcare sustainability teams can set ambitious energy reduction goals and take action.
Starting with the biggest energy draws in the hospital, retrofitting lighting systems and converting to clean energy sources can dramatically improve energy costs while providing a higher standard of patient care and comfort. Hospitals’ daily energy consumption is dominated by electricity, which accounts for 66% of energy consumption. The biggest users of electricity within the hospital aren’t the complex machines and lab equipment needed for patient care, but rather the lighting, elevators, air conditioning and ventilation equipment.
Addressing The Elephant in the Room – Lighting
Hospitals looking to reduce their energy use can start by upgrading/retrofitting these basic technologies. Measures as simple as turning things off and turning things down can make a big difference in the amount of energy used at a hospital. While lighting retrofit projects may seem like an additional cost, these projects have an average payback of less than 1.9 years. In fact, many lighting technologies, such as high-performance T8 lamps and ballasts can cut energy use by more than 20% compared to standard T8 technology. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) can replace incandescent lamps in a variety of applications and save up to $25 per lamp, per year in energy and maintenance costs.
Other Low Hanging Fruit
The American Society for Healthcare Engineering’s (ASHE) Sustainability Roadmap recommends HVAC preventive maintenance as a method to reduce energy costs. Retrocommissioning is a practice of re-evaluating existing HVAC systems to ensure they are being used in the most efficient manner. This practice is particularly helpful for older buildings that have been in use for a long time. Retrocommissioning can identify opportunities to reduce energy use and save costs and has been shown to reduce energy spending at hospitals by 10%. HVAC equipment tends to fall out of calibration over time, or its systems are often used unnecessarily 24/7, so looking at HVAC alone will give you fast results.
Swap Out Older Hospital Equipment For Energy-Efficient Models
After there is an energy management platform in place, and the lighting and HVAC systems have been addressed, hospital sustainability teams can turn to more expensive energy drainers within the facilities. The specialized equipment needed to practice actual healthcare requires intensive amounts of energy. Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) has become a standard part of modern medicine and needs constant power. For comparison, a computerized tomography (CT) scanner can be shut down, drawing little power when in sleep mode. A MRI magnet however needs to be cooled constantly, meaning that about 6 to 7 kilowatts (kW) of background energy is feeding the machine at all times, even when it’s not in use.
According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), each dollar saved by a healthcare organization through better energy performance is equivalent to generating up to $20 in new revenues for hospitals or $10 for medical offices. Meaning an energy efficiency project that saves $20,000 is equivalent to generating $400,000 in new revenues per year over the lifetime of the equipment. In addition to delivering financial savings and re-investment revenues from direct energy savings, upgraded healthcare facilities improve patient and employee comfort. For some facilities, revenue generated from increased staff productivity can be 10 times as high as the energy cost savings received from performance upgrades.
A Long-Term View of Sustainability In Healthcare
As if financial savings, improved outcomes/efficiency and protecting the environment weren’t enough, the healthcare industry must implement decarbonization-related activities to protect its own operations. The effects of climate change can wreak havoc on healthcare facilities, with droughts setting the stage for fires and more extreme weather causing flooding in buildings or freezing of water pipes. Many operations are housed in spaces with aging infrastructure that are energy-inefficient.
Hospitals and other health sector companies are deeply woven into the fabric of the communities they serve. By investing in energy management solutions and more efficient equipment – hospitals can reduce the amount of greenhouse gasses they are contributing to the atmosphere, better protecting their communities from the harmful effects of carbon emissions.