Barriers to Sustainable Healthcare Facilities Persist

Feb. 24, 2012

Three major bottlenecks are slowing progress toward more sustainable healthcare facilities, according to a recent IFMA study of 20 metropolitan areas.

Apprehension about the performance of new technology, buying decisions that are based on first cost, and the proliferation of greenwashing by manufacturers and service providers present major obstacles to greening the healthcare industry for nearly 80% of respondents to a survey of healthcare seminar attendees.

The study, which was conducted by the Corporate Realty, Design, and Management Institute (CRDMI) and the Healthcare Institute of IFMA, revealed that these three issues are closely linked when it comes to purchasing decisions.

About 80% of respondents said first cost is the most important factor in purchasing equipment and materials, with just 15% focusing on durability and lifetime cost. Cleveland, Chicago, and Denver were the only cities where at least 30% of respondents named durability or sustainable features as their top selection criteria.

Energy-saving technology didn’t fare much better, with 78% of respondents naming doubts about its projected performance as their top concern. More than 85% say greenwashing is more prevalent today than two years ago, indicating uncertainty about sustainable products.

Other key findings included:

  • Lack of confidence in installing or specifying new technology;
  • Lack of financial knowledge needed to overcome first cost issues with lifecycle analysis;
  • Perception that healthcare lags behind other industries in implementing sustainable solutions;
  • Widespread belief that energy costs will rise by 4% or more; and
  • Concerns over the reliability of infrastructure and regulatory pressures.

Researchers discovered a deficit in financial knowledge when over 60% of respondents incorrectly answered both of the survey’s financial questions. The correct answers reveal the impact that design and operations have on a hospital’s financial health. Saving $1 in energy can add up to $25 in revenue, which translates to an extra $7.2 million in the coffers for an average-sized U.S. hospital, says IFMA.

The survey was conducted among attendees of the “Economics, Efficiency, Energy, and Environment: Making the 4 Es Work Together in Healthcare” seminar series, held throughout 2010 and 2011. To read more, visit

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