The case for green buildings in health care

Thursday, 31 January, 2019

The case for green buildings in health care

The Green Building Council of Australia (GBCA) and New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) have released a paper titled ‘The case for sustainable healthcare’, revealing the triple bottom line benefits of green-certified health facilities following a review of national and international healthcare facilities.

The paper found hospitals typically used more than double the energy and six times the water per square metre compared to an office block. This makes them ideal candidates to receive sustainability upgrades, with Green Star-certified buildings and communities typically using 66% less electricity than average Australian city buildings, using half the potable water than minimum requirements and producing 62% lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Examples of positive outcomes outlined in the report are as follows:

  • The New South Wing of Flinders Medical Centre in South Australia, a five-star Green Star-certified building, saved $400,000 a year thanks to a solar-heated hot water system. It also reduced water consumption 20% through rainwater harvesting.
  • Austin Hospital’s Olivia Newton-John Cancer Wellness & Research Centre, the first certified Green Star – Healthcare project in Victoria, no longer uses any potable water for irrigation because of its 120,000 L rainwater-storage facility.
  • Queensland’s newly opened $1.8bn Sunshine Coast University Hospital is tipped to operate at 40% lower peak energy demand when it is fully occupied in 2021.
  • New Zealand’s Forte Health Building in Christchurch reported strong tenant and patient satisfaction. It also offered state-of-the-art operating theatre ventilation including ‘scavenging’ devices to remove potentially infected air from circulation.

The Australian examples build on international research that show patient benefits from green buildings. These included a 15% faster recovery for people with depression when they were cared for in facilities with natural sunlight; a 30% drop in medical errors in better designed rooms; and a 41% shorter average stay for patients in sunny rooms compared to those without access to natural light.

Citing the demonstrated benefits of sustainable buildings, GBCA CEO Romilly Madew has now challenged the healthcare industry to step up.

“We know patients and workers in Green Star-certified buildings report higher health and productivity,” she said. “This can lead to faster patient recovery times, increased employee satisfaction and lower staff turnover, as well as lower ongoing energy costs. The positives are too big to ignore.”

Madew pointed to the 10% and growing healthcare share of GDP — about $170 billion in 2015–2016 — saying vital funds should be used to deliver the most efficient healthcare infrastructure possible.

“We must become smarter about stretching our healthcare spend further,” she said. “Green buildings have proven cost benefits, in addition to the improvements for patients and workers.”

She added that less than 1% of more than 2000 Green Star-rated buildings across Australia are in the healthcare sector — most are offices.

“If office workers are benefiting from a healthy sustainable workplace, then so should sick people and their doctors and nurses,” she said.

Both the full report and an executive summary are available via the GBCA website.

Image credit: ©

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