If you've been to any large healthcare design conference, no doubt you've encoutered the phenomeon of the mid-afternoon Monday session on codes and standards: a dizzying array of numbers and rules and more numbers and more rules that your brain, post-lunch and hours away from your last cup of coffee, simply isn't equipped to fully process.

The presenters of Search for the Grail: Beating ASHRAE Standard 90.1 by 30% on a Budget evidently have, and they took steps to combat the problem. Clad in full costume as crusading knights of old, complete with swords, helmets, capes, and video clips from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, James Moler, PE, Kim Shinn, PE, Michael Sheerin, PE, and Buck Buchanan were nothing if not passionate to present their message with an entertaining flair, telling tales of how to reduce energy consumption "without impoverishing the realm." Themed as a quest and laden with quips in both modern code-speak and Olde English, the group managed to put their message across without putting the crowd to sleep; no mean feat.

Kim Shinn established benchmarks and baselines in the opening portion of the talk, laying out in easy-to-grasp terms the myriad codes and standards out there to measure against, where most healthcare facilities fall today, and where they need to be to achieve the lofty goal of the 2030 Challenge: no fossil fuel use for energy by 2030. The numbers Mr. Shinn presented, however, show that the industry is still far behind where it needs to be to reach that level.

Shinn explained that the 2007 goal was set as a 60% energy reduction, ramping up to 70% in 2016. Considering that the averages show that most facilities are well under 20% at this point illustrated in no uncertain terms just how far the industry is from this goal. All on the panel firmly believed we could get there eventually, but none were exactly sure of the best way to get there (though many suggestions and guidelines were presented, all of them potentially helpful in the right hands).

The most compelling fact, however, was presented by Shinn in pie-chart form from an NREL study on energy consumption in hospitals. Breaking down the country into regions, Shinn pointed out that in the region we were all sitting in--sunny Tampa, Florida--the largest energy consuming system in the average hospital was--wait for it--the heating system. "Let that sink in for a moment," said Shinn, pausing for effect. Most healthcare spaces are significantly overventilated, resulting in "reheat" which in turn leads to massive consumption even in basically warm-weather areas. Considering these numbers and the knowledge that a reliance on fossil fuels must be tempered eventually, these numbers provided some serious food for thought. This simple fact alone showed all in the audience that no matter what path we end up taking, there is still a long way to go.