LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification began in 1998 but really did not catch on until 2007. The healthcare industry is now embracing sustainable, green building, but there is still a basic environmental problem associated with all construction: Waste.
A recent article1 in Building Forward stated, “While green building and energy efficiency have been a rallying cry of the construction industry for nearly two decades, the amount of waste that’s produced at construction sites to build these more environmentally friendly structures has only continued to rise, as builders still simply throw out materials on-site that could be recycled or reused.” According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, there were 548 million tons of construction and demolition waste generated in the U.S. in 2015, the latest period for which data is available.
So what can be done about this? When looking for a construction company for your next healthcare project, look for companies that use deconstruction principles (reusing materials when practical) and reclaimed materials when available. There are also other concrete ways that project management or facilities teams at a healthcare system can decrease waste at the construction site. Here are three examples:
1. Decreasing cardboard, pallets and other packing materials
As new equipment is delivered, there is a plethora of packing materials that needs to be disposed. A typical clinic construction project (40 exam rooms) will yield approximately 2,100 pounds of cardboard, 4,000 pounds of pallets and 400 pounds of other packing materials just from the delivery of new equipment. Whether you use a distributor’s direct-to-site (white glove) delivery service or another type of delivery company, work with them to unpack, uncrate and assemble most of the new equipment in their own warehouse or storage center prior to delivery. They should be able to recycle 95 percent to 97 percent of the packing materials. Not only will this practice keep waste down at the dock or entryway, but it should make for a more streamlined and efficient process at the dock. Your new equipment should come off the truck on wheels (furniture dollies) and get delivered directly to the rooms.
2. Working with distributors and manufacturers on a greener delivery solution
Many manufacturers have reconsidered packing materials in the last few years, using fewer in general and a higher percentage of recyclable and recycled substances. You or your distributor partners can continue that discussion and really push for using less material (without compromising the protection of the equipment) and more recyclable ones. A lot of new equipment can be shipped blanket-wrapped, eliminating all packing materials except reusable protection blankets. Many manufacturers might not talk about this option because it does increase freight costs. Customers should ask about this option as an alternative.
3. Recycling, donating or reselling decommissioned equipment
Many current healthcare construction projects are focused on renovating or repurposing current spaces. In those instances, there is always decommissioned equipment that needs disposition. Sometimes older equipment is just thrown away quickly to make room for new equipment. Other times it is put in storage to be dealt with later. Both solutions are not ideal from a green perspective and can cost the healthcare system money over time. The best solution is to work with your healthcare equipment distributor or other disposition company to see if older equipment can be refurbished and resold. This keeps the equipment out of a landfill and might even make some money for the system. These companies can also facilitate getting the old equipment to a recycling or charitable donation center.
Building more sustainable healthcare facilities is a necessity going forward to reduce the environmental impact and slow global warming. Efficient use of energy, water and other resources is crucial from a design perspective. We should also keep in mind the waste created when these fantastic new facilities are built. To help our planet sustain itself, we must work towards decreasing that carbon footprint.