Your New Healthcare Building Is Green? Prove It
It wasn’t that long ago that green design—applied and accepted on a widespread scale—was the next big thing. And it wasn’t long after that that the term “greenwashing” entered the lexicon, as companies offered up vague claims of green/sustainable/energy-conserving benefits, hoping to jump on the Earth-friendly bandwagon without addressing the pesky question of proof.
We’ve all become more educated on how to suss out true green claims versus spurious ones, and especially for those who work within a specific field—in our case, healthcare architecture—you simply can’t get away with vague statements anymore. You’re all doing this work, so you know what’s what. So when we talk to designers, architects, and facility managers about green efforts, we generally ask for details (if they’re not offered up front): What’s the return on investment, and when will it be realized? Are there plans in place to study the effectiveness of the measure? How much energy, for example, will be saved over previous or comparable approaches—and how will that affect the bottom line and/or the building’s carbon footprint?
We usually get some answers. But is it enough?
Larry Spielvogel, an engineer in Pennsylvania, wrote to tell me it’s not. “The proponents, advocates, designers, and owners of green or sustainable buildings and spaces describe their size, construction cost, and how beneficial they are, especially from an energy or emissions perspective,” he says. “However, they almost never provide factual measured data to support their claims, even when those data are or can become readily available.”
Interestingly, it’s not the first time Spielvogel has voiced this opinion—he wrote about the topic five years ago, in a 2008 article for Plant Engineering. In that article (and in his note to me), he says the media should require a year’s worth of metered data to accompany any green building case study. If the facility has been operating for at least a year, the chart would show monthly metered energy consumption data for 12 consecutive months, “so readers can make comparisons with their own or comparable facilities.” If the facility is less than a year old, he says, we in the media should require our sources to provide us with that data within two years—at which point, we’d publish it and reference the previous article. “A simple table of the factual metered data,” he suggests, citing square footage and any unusual building features that might affect the data, should do it.
So I have to ask: Is this a reasonable request for our sources? A desirable and useful metric? I throw it out to you, our readers, for feedback—especially since you’re often our sources, as well. Would you be willing, and able, to provide such data? The simplicity and tangibility of the concept is appealing, and it allows a basis for comparison to refer to year over year as articles are stockpiled online and in print.
I bring all this up not only to get feedback for the practical goal of providing content for Healthcare Design—Larry’s letter also reminded me how far we’ve come in having quantifiable data on energy usage that can be compared over a meaningful span of time. Again, are we sharing enough? Is there more we should be demanding to know? I’d love to hear from you at email@example.com, or in the comments below.