Making A Hospital More Green

Posted on Jun 1, 2011 :: Green Business
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Photo courtesy of Affinity Health System

Mike Strass and Gary Kusnierz, two veteran New North hospital executives, definitely agree on one thing when it comes to energy savings at their institutions: it’s all about the patient.

“We have created a process to be advocates for our patients and their families,” says Kusnierz, who is vice president of performance excellence for Affinity Health System based in Appleton. “Everything we do links to providing the best environment for caring for patients, as well as our staff – simply providing the best care.”

Strass, director of plant services at St. Vincent Hospital in Green Bay, speaks of the same challenge: “We want to provide the best patient care for every patient, every time. Every day, regardless of season, we have some patients who are cold and need to be warmed up, and some who are too warm and need to be cooler. It’s a challenge, but we want to make their stay as comfortable as possible.”

Both men were architects of their institutions’ journeys to gain Energy Star® certification from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Affinity’s St. Elizabeth Hospital of Appleton and Mercy Medical Center of Oshkosh both became certified in 2009 and St. Vincent earned its designation in May 2010.

The Energy Star rating program is a set of performance standards for measuring a building’s energy use, operational expense and greenhouse emissions, as compared to its peers. A score of 75 on a 100-point scale is the minimum for the designation; that means the building is operating more efficiently than 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide.

“The Energy Star program started in 1992 to promote efficient lighting and was expanded to evaluate whole buildings over time,” says Energy Star’s Clark Reed, director of the health care facilities division at its main office in Washington, D.C. “We know that 30 percent of energy in commercial buildings is typically inefficiently or needlessly used, and our goal is to help businesses change that.”

Are there special challenges to upgrading energy efficiency in hospitals? “Absolutely,” says St. Vincent’s Strass. “Unlike most other businesses, we’re open 24 hours a day, 52 weeks a year.” They also need to have emergency facilities, operating rooms, testing centers and delicate equipment available at a moment’s notice.

Nationwide, the average energy score for hospitals is between 50 and 60. Strass estimates that St. Vincent’s score was in the 60s after it replaced more than 360 exterior windows in its 10-story tower with triple-pane thermal glass in 2008-09. “That effort reinforced our awareness of the Energy Star process, and we said ‘we can do this.’ So, we formed our Energy Focus Team.”
Resulting improvements at St. Vincent Hospital included:

» Installing an automated control system on air conditioner chillers that senses load and operates based on need.
» Installing more efficient controls for boilers used for heating, cooking and sterilization.
» Expanding heat recovery capability to reuse some of the energy.
» Adding variable frequency drive technology to run motors in the most efficient way possible for the task at hand.
» Better managing HVAC loads by not heating or cooling a space that is not in use.
» Updating lighting systems to more energy efficient technology.
These improvements brought the Energy Star score to the required 75.
St. Elizabeth Hospital was “on the threshold” of a 75 score before Affinity started its serious Energy Star work, since new projects over the past few years had been built with better windows, insulation and other energy features. Mercy Medical was a bit below that.
Like St. Vincent, Affinity also adjusted boiler controls, retrofitted lighting, and installed variable frequency drive technology. In addition, Affinity:
» Retrofitted soffits to minimize air infiltration.
» Installed a feed-water economizer that captures heat from flue gas and transfers it to incoming water.
» Replaced a dishwasher to save a couple thousand gallons of water annually.
» Replaced a water heater on the Mercy Medical campus with Energy Star-rated equipment.
» Developed a plan for ongoing monitoring of HVAC and other equipment to make sure they are tuned for efficiency.
» Adjusted seasonal set points for utilities for temperature and humidity.

These initiatives brought St. Elizabeth to an 85 score and Mercy Medical to a 76. They anticipate even higher scores in the future: the current expansion at St. Elizabeth includes a new central utility plant, which will be much more efficient, and Mercy will undergo retro-commissioning to further optimize its energy usage.

“Rating systems like these offer both a rigorous process and a third-party verification. It’s not just us tooting our own horn,” adds Kusnierz.

In Wisconsin, 454 commercial buildings are Energy Star certified. Six of those are hospitals – the other three are located in Mequon, Milwaukee and LaCrosse.

“The buildings we see account for almost half of all the energy consumption in the U.S. and generate half of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions,” says Reed.

“Through Energy Star, the EPA helps businesses save money and fight climate change through superior energy efficiency, and we are very excited to see these three hospitals in your area earn their Energy Star.”