Kaiser Permanente is turning green, and its employees don’t seem to mind.
Throughout this Oakland, CA-based national healthcare organization, facilities teams are integrating what they call “green building strategies” into all aspects of design and construction activities.
“We weave sustainable practices into our standards rather than viewing this as a separate endeavor,” says Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser’s director of both Environmental Stewardship and National Environmental, Health, and Safety. “We pursue environmentally responsible practices in alignment with our commitment to build quality and affordable healthcare facilities.”
Green building measures being put into place at Kaiser’s 29 medical centers and 423 medical offices are wide in scope. The company uses an integrated design process where multidisciplinary teams discuss opportunities and challenges from the earliest stages of planning and design. Teams review such things as site and building massing; water conservation, including water-efficient landscaping; building commissioning; erosion control; and use of recycled content in building materials, where appropriate, among other actions.
Standards also focus on the use of environmentally preferable materials and products that meet indoor air testing criteria, Gerwig says. However, there are challenges in achieving this.
Gerwig believes facilities professionals need to be better educated and more sophisticated in the questions they ask about green products. Products might have certain features that make them environmentally attractive, but you also need to look at the big picture, she says. “We’ve discovered that many products marketed as environmentally friendly do not meet our criteria,” Gerwig says. “The challenge is to take into account the product’s entire environmental impact over its entire lifespan.”
For example, Kaiser is trying to phase out the use of vinyl because it contributes to dioxin pollution, Gerwig notes. Yet, many vinyl products are marketed as “green.” Gerwig cites a few: Vinyl window coverings reduce energy use and are therefore considered green by energy standards. Recycled vinyl-backed carpet is considered green because it contains recycled content.
Gerwig says she and other decision-makers at Kaiser also have discovered that the needs of healthcare facilities limit product suitability. “Stain resistance is critical for us, and some environmentally friendly products do not possess that feature,” she says. “This analysis of options requires data and information that are often not readily available, and time and resources are needed to analyze the data that does exist.”
All new Kaiser facilities are getting greener product specs, particularly in California, where state-enforced seismic requirements are forcing those in the healthcare industry to renovate existing facilities and build new ones. In the next 10 years, Kaiser will construct between 15 and 20 hospitals and 40 and 50 medical buildings because of these requirements.
“It’s an enormous job,” Gerwig says. “And in order to have these be green buildings and make the right impact, we need to make our decisions early on. This means working with our suppliers to get the products we want so we can make the right choices for decades to come. And, what we’re learning and applying in California, we’re applying to all of our other locations, too.”
Back to School
“Kent State University has always tried to be a good steward of natural resources by designing buildings that are energy efficient and building heating and air-conditioning systems that will reduce the overall utility needs of the campus, but, according to the current definition of ‘Green Building Design,’ we are still learning and reacting.
“For example, we have not yet initiated any new building design projects with ‘Green Design’ as a top priority. Green design is always mentioned as an important goal, but we have not risen to the level of evaluating all building materials and furnishings as is sometimes done.
“We do strive to design buildings that are efficient to operate and maintain. Because we also perform many improvements while the buildings are occupied, we choose materials that can be applied or installed without causing an occupant exposure problems (such as latex vs. enamel paint or water-based duct sealant vs. solvent-based sealant). We also design architectural systems, which will reduce the overall energy usage. Some recent examples are the solar shades on our Student Recreation and Wellness Center and the high-story glass within the power plant to allow natural light within the building.
“In new designs, materials that are environmentally friendly are looked on more favorably than those that are not, despite the fact that environmentally friendly products typically are more expensive. The benefits could include attracting students and staff, which hold green and environmentally friendly design as a high priority.
“The higher price, however, could impact the total scope of the project because a potential cost increase in a poor economy can potentially risk the entire project.”
– Thomas J. Euclide, PE, Director, Architecture and Engineering, Office of the University Architect, Kent State University, Kent, OH