There is a new trend in health care: greening hospitals to reduce toxins and provide a healthier, healing environment. The Green Guide sought out the top 10 in the U.S.. By Kim Weller, AIA
Since 2000, when the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) started to promote its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards, green building has taken off, producing environmentally sound schools and offices. Now the trend is catching on in health care, as hospitals seek to reduce toxins and provide a healthier, healing environment.
By taking up green practices, whether incrementally or from the ground up, many hospitals are managing to lower energy bills, reduce waste and achieve healthier indoor air.
Green hospitals make good sense for the health of the entire community: patients, staff and visitors. To prevent spread of infection in hospitals, it's important to reduce exposures to germs—especially for patients with compromised immune systems—but the use of harsh chemical cleaners can cause respiratory problems. Conventional cleaning products, as well as many paints, adhesives and furnishings, can give off irritating, allergenic fragrances and toxic volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) such as formaldehyde; by choosing low-VOC products, hospitals help those in their care recover and improve conditions for staff. Simple design changes can work wonders, too. Studies have shown that poor indoor lighting increases levels of stress in hospital workers, leading to compromised medical care. "Daylighting" (that is, bringing daylight indoors with enlarged windows, light wells, clerestory windows and reflective surfaces), not only improves work performance but has been shown to improve patient recovery rates, while saving energy.