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Hospitals meet building challenge

April 22,2015

via Atlanta Business Chronicle

By Randy Southerland

In the 24/7 patient-centered world of health care, reducing energy and water use and achieving sustainability goals has presented some special challenges. Hospital systems have to be up and running around the clock and getting doctors, nurses and other staff to change behaviors can be particularly difficult.

That hasn’t stopped some of Atlanta’s biggest health-care providers from achieving impressive savings through the Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge.

“Balancing patient comfort is a different beast than balancing tenant comfort,” said Shelby Busó, director of sustainability with Central Atlanta Progress. Yet, some big players in Atlanta health care have found innovative ways to reduce consumption and boost their efficiencies.

Launched in 2011 with a goal of enrolling 2 million square feet of space in this national energy efficiency program, the challenge signed up more than 25 million square feet in its first year. Since then the challenge has added more than 400 buildings representing approximately 94 million square feet. Health care-related facilities represent 3.4 million-square feet, about 3.6 percent of the total.

The program was originally launched by the Obama Administration and implemented in cities nationwide by the U.S. Department of Energy. It is a partnership between CAP and the city of Atlanta that encourages building owners to institute energy savings measures toward reaching a program goal of reducing consumption by 20 percent by 2020.

While Class A office was the first to jump on the bandwagon, more recently health-care facilities have also signed up to their energy footprint. Emory Healthcare and Grady Health System are the two biggest participants in the program.

Emory University Hospital Midtown, the former Crawford W. Long Memorial Hospital, was one of the first to enroll in the program and has made major strides in efficiency and conservation, according to Sarah Peek, assistant director of facilities management at Emory University Hospital Midtown.

With a campus comprised of five major buildings and more than 1.5 million square feet, the hospital is one of the largest consumers of energy and water in the downtown and Midtown areas. Since joining the program in 2012, the hospital reduced energy usage by 31 percent in its 665,000 square foot Summit Parking Deck by retrofitting lighting fixtures.

While the hospital itself required a full-time schedule of energy usage driven by patient occupancy, Emory used an outside consultant to determine occupancy schedules for its medical office buildings.

“Does a building need to run 24 hours a day when it’s really only occupied between 7 [a.m.] and 6 in the evening?” said Peek. “We were operating as if people were in the buildings all the time when that wasn’t the case. When we assessed both of them we were able to look at occupancy schedules and found they [heating and air units] shouldn’t be coming up and running at max until probably between 6 and 7 [a.m.]”

The campus was able to realize a $30,000 annual savings in energy use just by tweaking the heating, air and lighting for one building to conform to actual tenant use, she added.

The buildings also range in age from almost a century to 14 years old. Making older structures more energy efficient proved to be a challenge, said Peek.

The historic Art Deco W.W. Orr Building required extensive evaluation to ensure that old air flows ducts were not blocked and air systems were operating at maximum efficiency.

In addition to energy savings, the hospital also earned $15,306 in rebates from Georgia Power for retrofitting lighting in the parking deck and the hospital atrium. Other energy conservation measures, such as the retro-commissioning of the hospital (a check-up of the hospital’s mechanical systems), saved almost $365,000 annually. The campus achieved nearly $365,098 in annual savings as a result of measures identified during the challenge. It also reduced energy consumption by 26.2 percent per square foot from 2005 levels.

With the expansion of the challenge outside the Midtown area, Emory has also added its other hospital and medical facilities, as well as, the entire Emory University campus.

“We have a strong sustainability initiative that aligns with our strategic goals,” said Kelly O’Day Weisinger, sustainability programs coordinator with Emory University and Emory Healthcare. “Partnering with the city of Atlanta, Central Atlanta Progress, the Midtown Alliance and the Southface Institute and all these local entities was a big attraction to us. It allows us to not only complement our internal sustainability goals, but also see how we can make a broader impact by reducing our energy and water consumption.”

The Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge has put the city among the nation’s top cities in reducing energy and water consumption. In 2013 (the latest year for which figures are available) buildings enrolled in the challenge saved more than 169 million kilowatts and about 86 million gallons of water.

CLOSER LOOK

Atlanta Better Buildings Challenge

  • Began: 2011
  • Total Space: 94 million square feet
  • Total Buildings: 400
  • Health care: 3.4 million square feet