Master Class: Robin Guenther
Name: Robin Guenther
Award: Most Influential People in Healthcare Design, 2009 and 2010
Then and now: Principal and global sustainable healthcare leader, Perkins+Will (New York)
What she’s been up to: Contributed to winning design for Kaiser Permanente Small Hospital Big Idea design competition in 2011; served as cofounder of the health product declaration standard for uniform disclosure of building material ingredients; co-published the second edition of Sustainable Healthcare Architecture in 2013 with colleague Gail Vittori; developed a healthcare resiliency guide and toolkit for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in 2013-14; and presented at TEDMED in 2014.
What’s one thing about the evolving healthcare design landscape that excites you?
I’m really focusing on using health as the inspiration to transform the program and design of healthcare spaces. Hospital executives are much more interested in viewing their sustainability programs as an essential part of this transformation to “health-focused” organizations and as integral to safety and quality. It’s also a powerful employee engagement and community leadership tool—just look at what has happened to Gundersen Health System since they made the commitment to energy independence by 2014. They’ve become a national sustainability leader and their CEO received a Presidential Climate Champion award at the White House.
What’s one of the biggest changes you’ve seen in the design of healthcare spaces since you won your award and how has it affected what you do?
It used to be an uphill battle to get windows in diagnostic and treatment areas of hospitals, but I see much more creativity and success in nature integration happening today. I’m also encouraged to see real competition among owners to build the lowest-energy-consuming hospital in North America; five years ago, you couldn’t have believed that net-zero energy or water projects would even be discussed, but now owners are competing to see who will be first.
What’s on your radar screen in 2016?
I’m interested in how healthcare systems are working with their communities to build health for a paper I’m working on around that topic. I’m still on airplanes way too much, speaking and working with hospital leaders on moving sustainability forward in their organizations. I’m eager to engage with hospitals in accelerating the market for healthier materials and a future in which the delivery of "healthcare creates nothing but health,” to borrow a phrase from my CleanMed keynote.
In 2006, she said: I believe [healthcare] will continue to lead green building to a broader health-based set of ideas about building design, construction, and operation. With those ideas will come better life-cycle assessment tools and better methodologies for evaluating the health issues around our buildings, the materials, and the processes inside our walls.
What she says now: There’s an emerging group of healthcare systems that have formed the Health Care Climate Council to work together on climate change mitigation, adaption, policy, and advocacy. I think they demonstrate the power of the idea of health as a motivation to move beyond fossil fuel dependent infrastructure. Collectively, their messaging that fossil fuel burning is responsible for a range of negative health consequences, their investments in renewable energy, and their willingness to attend Paris climate negotiations, stand with their communities, and talk about climate change as a health issue is the most exciting new development. They are beginning to question the "culture of compliance," critically examining codes and standards that drive energy intensity.
For more Q+As with past recipients of Healthcare Design’s professional awards programs, check out "Master Class."