Magazine article Health Facilities Management

The ROI of Sustainability: Financial Benefits Are Just the Beginning

Magazine article Health Facilities Management

The ROI of Sustainability: Financial Benefits Are Just the Beginning

Article excerpt

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Health care organizations can gain a number of returns by investing in sustainable interiors. Green interior design enables facilities to be responsible stewards of environmental health and safety as well as the financial health of an institution; it also correlates the mission of a facility with its materials.

"The conversation has gone from sustainability ... to the notion of materials being healthful," says Blake Jackson, AIA, LEED AP BD+C, WELL AP, associate and sustainability practice leader, Tsoi/ Kobus & Associates, Cambridge, Mass.

Sustainable options

Healthful materials generally can be obtained at little or no additional cost--and sometimes can cost even less.

"For hospitals, the focus on indoor-air quality for occupants' health is where there's a lot of low-hanging fruit in sustainable materials, both from contributing to overall sustainability and from an ROI perspective," says Robin Guenther, FAIA, LEED Fellow, sustainable health care design leader in the New York City office of Perkins+Will and senior adviser to environmental health care group Health Care Without Harm. In the past, facilities often paid a premium for materials that did not emit volatile organic compounds. "But, by and large, those materials have become much more cost neutral as they've become the predominant materials in the marketplace," Guenther says. This is a huge benefit to health care, she adds, given that much painting and refinishing work in hospitals occur while people are in occupancy.

According to Guenther, materials with recycled content also have been integrated into the market to the point that they no longer come at a premium. This is becoming true for interior products in general. "Manufacturing is moving toward being more proactive about these things, so we're not seeing an additional cost," Jackson says. Manufacturers are looking to remain relevant to a market concerned with material health; in addition, they're realizing benefits from not having to buy and handle as many regulated chemicals. As a result, "we notice that we have way more options for healthful materials than we did in the past," Jackson says.

Guenther says newer product entries, which are produced at a smaller scale, sometimes come at a higher initial price that tends to equalize with the price of non-sustainable options as production ramps up. "If health care wants better materials and healthful materials, more sustainable materials, they have to be willing in a way to invest in growing those markets," she says. In addition, health care organizations can use their buying power to actively influence manufacturers to develop sustainable alternatives. "At 18 percent of the GDP, if health care can consolidate and ask for a healthful product, the market is going to deliver," she says.

Healthier Hospitals Initiative

Monica L. Nakielski, program manager, sustainable initiatives, for Partners HealthCare, Boston, says this was part of the reason for the creation of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), a program working to develop a more sustainable business model for the health care sector. Partners was a founding member of the HHI along with several other leading health care organizations, including Dignity Health, Advocate Health Care and Kaiser Permanente. "Our hope in joining efforts is to demonstrate aggregate demand and commitment, consequently accelerating these products coming to market and reducing the price," she says.

In January 2015, the Massachusetts fire code was changed to no longer require facilities with automatic sprinkler systems to utilize fire-retardant chemicals in furnishings. Nakielski compiled six months of purchasing data to determine how much Partners was paying to have these chemicals added to seating products. This was part of an overall effort to reduce chemicals of concern at the organization's facilities. She learned that there was an approximately 30 percent upcharge for added fire retardants. …

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