Jean Hansen

Sponsored article: HDR, Inc. shares details given in its recent GreenerBuilder session.

In this series, speakers from USGBC Northern California’s GreenerBuilder conference, held August 1, 2018, in San Francisco, share insights from their sessions.

The health care industry has long understood the connections between human and environmental health, both in operations and building design. Today’s leading health care organizations are taking action in a number of areas to further reduce their environmental footprint; they not only want to comply with chemical regulations and guidelines, but many also seek to go beyond regulations by developing a framework for choosing safer chemicals.

During a recent session at the GreenBuilder 2018 event that focused on "Healthy Buildings and Healthcare Buildings," we explored how the built environment impacts health from the granular level (toxins, specific substances) to the macro level (community design, climate change). A lively conversation ensued regarding opportunities, ranging from micro to macro levels, which can help health care organizations pursue a greater commitment to health and wellness.

Here are five important takeaways or opportunities, with the caveat that every opportunity—big or small—is an important one.

  1. A growing body of knowledge and evidence links climate change, waste, chemicals and energy usage to public health. And the health care sector, which represents nearly 18 percent of the entire economy, according to 2016 numbers, is one of the largest users of toxic chemicals in the economy, is considered the second most energy-intensive commercial building sector (in-patient care specifically) and contributes significant levels of waste every day. The health care sector must continue to research these connections to expand understanding of the science linking environmental exposures with patient, employee and community health. The bottom line is that as the rates of obesity, cancer, asthma and diabetes continue to rise, so do the health care costs related to treating these diseases.
  1. The building industry has a significant role to play in improving health across these levels. Organizations can begin to take responsibility by using the principles of “first, do no harm” and the “precautionary principles” in their design, construction and operational practices, and derive significant financial value for the organization. Equally imperative is integrating sustainability into the organizational strategy in order to achieve the greatest success. Energy efficiency is an important contributor to reducing greenhouse gases and combating climate change. Many opportunities to take action exist, including increasing energy efficiencies, reexamining food systems and analyzing supply chains and transportation impacts. Practice Greenhealth provides information, best practices and solutions for healthier environments and reducing climate footprints.
  1. The green building industry, as part of the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Challenge​, has a big opportunity with the Global Climate Action Summit that begins on September 12 in San Francisco. The summit will not only bring together leaders from state and local governments, businesses, and so on, but will also showcase climate action taking place around the world, and inspire everyone to step up their commitment.
  1. By considering the operational impact of finishes, furniture and fabric selections early in the design process, not only will the health impacts of patients and staff be reduced, but the ability to select products that meet maintenance, infection control and durability/longevity standards are greatly improved. As a part of the initial selection process, using the “six classes” approach to selecting safer alternatives for interior finishes, furniture and fabric promotes a better understanding of chemicals, their functions, where they are used and how they can be avoided —and, very importantly, preventing a potential substitution when possible.
  1. A dedication to collaboration on the part of all stakeholders greatly increases a project’s success. While this sounds like no-nonsense advice, it’s sometimes easier said than done. UCSF has found that the use of a “big room” is essential to fostering this advanced level of partnership. All team members responsible for design and construction—from owners and design team to the contractors and the subcontractors—are housed within this community space. The Big Room community values communication, learning and improving; they hold continuing education and open conversations among all team members; and they partner with manufacturers for new product development. In the spirit of the “Big Room” culture, UCSF also invites the community in, along with industry experts and a broad community of peers to help them achieve the best project outcomes.

These article reflects the discussion at the GreenBuilder 2018 conference session "Healthy Buildings and Healthcare Buildings." It was moderated by Jean Hansen, FIIDA, LEED Fellow, WELL AP, CID, EDAC, AAHID, HDR; and featured the following speakers: Dr. Elizabeth Baca, Senior Health Advisory, California Governor’s Office of Planning and Research; Erica Stewart, Principal Consultant, Environment, Health & Safety, Kaiser Permanente; and Mary Phillips, Architect, Project Manager, University of California San Francisco’s Mission Bay Medical Center.