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LEEDing Health Care

LEEDing Health Care

(July 1, 2011)

Why the New Green Building Standards are Better for Us All

On April 8, 2011, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) rolled out its latest green building rating system, LEED for Healthcare. (“LEED” is an acronym standing for “Leadership in Energy & Efficient Design.”) Specifically tailored to the special requirements of healthcare facilities, the new rating system is expected to open the doors to a new generation of medical building design. While hospitals and other medical facilities have for years been working to incorporate “green” features into their new projects and major renovations, the LEED for Healthcare or “LEED HC” standards provide a new, objective structure for incorporating sustainable development strategies.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building certification system is the foremost program for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings. For years, healthcare facility designers had lamented that the general LEED rating system; while fine for general office, hospitality, and industrial buildings; did not adequately address the peculiar needs of a hospital. The new LEED HC standards are the culmination of six years worth of effort among various stakeholders to shape something more appropriate for round-the-clock healthcare facilities. For those who have been monitoring green development options for healthcare facilities, it is worth noting that LEED HC incorporates many of the features of “The Green Guide for Healthcare” pilot program that has been available since 2007. Now, however, the imprimatur of “LEED” can be assigned to those hospitals and related facilities that truly qualify as green.

The launch of LEED HC did not come as quickly as many expected. In the end, the development of the new standards took nearly six years. While observers had been anticipating that LEED HC would be in place by mid-2010, numerous drafts, revisions, and adjustments to incorporate feedback from architects, designers, engineers, facility operators, and LEED Accredited Professionals were required to bring together a consensus.
So, does it matter? Designers, owners, and managers of healthcare facilities pursue green building techniques in pursuit of a variety of goals. The promise of reduced operating costs and improved patient outcomes certainly catches the attention of every hospital operator. Scot Horst, Senior Vice President with USGBC, noted at the Phoenix, Ariz. press conference announcing the debut of LEED HC, “Research has shown that when we are treated and heal in a green healthcare facility—one that has a healthy indoor environmental quality and connects us to the outdoors —we heal faster, have shorter hospital stays and fewer return visits.”

While any medical or healthcare facility may elect to register their building under the LEED HC criteria, LEED HC was specifically developed to meet the unique needs of a 24-hour operational facility. It is likely that more limited healthcare-related operations, including medical office buildings, will elect to be registered and rated under the more general LEED for new construction (LEED NC) standards.

Since the pilot launch of LEED more than a decade ago, only 225 healthcare-related projects have been certified with a LEED designation. This is a small percentage of the more than 40,000 LEED Certified business and institutional facilities that have been certified over that same period. With the new LEED HC standards and increasing attention to green development techniques, expect that balance to change. Stay tuned...


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David J. Neill
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