Tipping Point Of Sustainable Design
I enjoy the fact that taking canvas bags to the grocery store doesn't elicit weird looks anymore, that school kids learn about recycling and reuse alongside their ABCs and math facts, and that my city-supplied recycling bin is way larger than my trash can.
But what I like most is that these green practices are no longer out of the ordinary—they’re normal, everyday decisions and choices that we’ve all learned to make.
The same shift in green thinking can be found in the design community, as more owners and design and architecture firms employ energy- and water-saving features, specify healthy building materials, and make smarter design decisions.
The U.S. Green Building Council recently reported that 3 billion square feet of green construction space has earned LEED certification around the globe to date. That milestone accounts for all types of projects and sectors, from The World Bank in Washington, D.C. to Taipei 101 Tower, one of the tallest buildings in the world (Taipei, Taiwan). Healthcare is right in there, too, making a difference one hospital and medical center at a time.
I recently interviewed the project team for Dell Children’s Medical Center in Central Texas. Owner Seton Healthcare made a name for its organization when it opened the first LEED platinum-certified hospital in the world in 2007.
Four years later when funding was approved to add an 86,000-square-foot bed tower addition on Dell’s 32-acre campus, the owner had a decision: Go down the same green path using data and design concepts first tested in the 503,000-square-foot base building or go through another learning curve using the USGBC’s new LEED rating system designed specifically for healthcare?
It chose the not-so-easy path, and again, set its sights on platinum certification, which it achieved shortly after the bed tower opened in May 2013.
“We had an administration that had a legacy back to the design of the original hospital, so we didn’t have to convince anybody that this was a good idea,” says Alan Bell, director design and construction, Seton Network Facilities, Dell’s Austin, Texas-based parent company. “There was enough archival history with the administration that it was understood, ‘This is how we do things here.’”
Gail Vittori, co-director, Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (Austin, Texas), who served as LEED consultant on the Dell bed tower project, thinks society has been too complacent about accepting sub-par environments for healing and that this new generation of healthcare facilities will start driving broader changes.
“We’ll find that [these facilities] will be more competitive, will be the place where people choose to go to heal, and where people who work will choose for their employment,” she says.
There are plenty of leaders in the healthcare field pursuing sustainable and LEED certified design initiatives, including Kaiser Permanente, University of Missouri Health Care’s (MU Health Care), Seymour Johnson and Warner Robins Air Force Bases, Cedars-Sinai Advanced Health Sciences Pavilion, Adelante Healthcare, Northwestern Medicine health system, SickKids Research Institute, and Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, to name just a few. (For a more extensive list, search the term “LEED” on HCD’s website.)
“Hopefully we’re approaching a tipping point with our understanding that you can do all of this and not move outside of your budgetary parameters,” Vittori says. “How’s it going to be possible for this not to become the basis of design and operation for healthcare facilities in the future?”
Do you agree we're at a tipping point? What will it take for green healthcare design to be the norm?