Going Green: How the Energy Star Program Is Impacting Healthcare
Most of us are used to seeing the familiar blue and white Energy Star sticker affixed to household appliances, televisions, computers and most anything that uses electricity.
The venerable program has been around since 1992 when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency started putting labels on computers and monitors as a voluntary program to identify models that were energy efficient.
With EPA estimate that the healthcare industry spends $8.8 billion each year on energy, finding energy efficient solutions can have a major impact on the bottom line for healthcare managers and healthcare administrators.
The EPA estimates that every dollar in energy savings for non-profit healthcare organizations can equal a $20 increase in revenue for hospitals or $10 for medical offices. In for-profit hospitals, medical offices and nursing homes cutting energy costs by 5 percent can translate into a penny per share boost in earnings, the EPA estimates.
Going Green: Energy Star Program Requirements
Criteria for meeting Energy Star program requirements include products that contribute significant national reductions in power consumption, use technology broadly available to manufacturers and provide energy savings that can be verified by lab tests.
In the mid-1990s, the EPA expanded its Energy Star program from appliances to construction practices to promote energy efficient building design. In 1996, the program began to certify new homes that were 30% more energy efficient and certify businesses as a way to reduce power consumption through energy efficient buildings.
Over 20 years, recognition of the Energy Star designation has spread to most of the country’s households with 85 percent of the households in 2011 recognizing the ubiquitous label, according to an annual survey conducted for the EPA.
The agency says the Energy Star program saved $18 billion in power costs nationwide in 2010, the latest figures the EPA has released, and reduced greenhouse emissions equal to 33 million vehicles.
Commercial Buildings Earn Energy Star Ratings
In the commercial realm, the EPA said by 2010, nearly 13,000 buildings covering more than 2 billion square feet of commercial space have received the Energy Star rating, an increase of 400 million square feet over 2009.
The increase in commercial buildings using Energy Star guidelines has been boosted by the Energy Star tax credit that can be up to $1.80 a square foot for new or existing commercial buildings that save at least 50% of their heating and cooling costs.
Many Hospitals Now Part of the Energy Star Program
Nearly a quarter of the nation’s hospitals are part of the Energy Star program, according to an article by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering published on the Energy Star website.
A report prepared for the Consortium for Energy Efficiency estimated hospitals spend an average of $1.67 a square foot for electricity and 48 cents a square foot on natural gas with heating and cooling and lighting accounting for most of those costs.
Energy savings don’t have to come just from new equipment or modern, new buildings. Facility operations management can produce significant reductions of 5% up to 20% by fine-tuning and recommissioning equipment, the ASHE said in “Putting the ’O’ Back in Energy Management,” another of its publications on the Energy Star website that focuses on steps to reduce power for lighting, heating and cooling.
Even simple cleaning of lighting fixtures can increase lighting output by up to 10%, the article said. Testing, adjusting and balancing the HVAC system so the flow of air and water match load requirements can shave up to 10% from heating and cooling costs.
Altering Employee Behavior Key to Green Efforts
While savings come from mechanical improvements, altering behavior of workers also contributes. New York-Presbyterian Hospital earned three annual Energy Star awards through a host of changes since 2003, including replacing 5,000 light fixtures and 400 old window air conditioning units with a central system as well as a comprehensive HVAC retrofit.
But part of the estimated $1.7 million in annual savings also came through educating workers to reduce energy costs, including the simple step of having housekeeping workers turn off copy machines during nighttime rounds.
Providence Health & Services, a Seattle-based healthcare system with 27 acute care hospitals and more than 200 physician clinics in the Pacific Northwest and California, started going green using the Energy Star program in 2003 to curb utility costs and saw a savings of $700,000 that year.
Energy savings for the non-profit healthcare provider rose to $2.3 million by 2005.
New Lights, Exit Signs and Computers
Among the steps Providence took were upgrading 100,000 fluorescent light fixtures, replacing 300 exit signs with those meeting Energy Star specifications and buying only computers with Energy Star certification.
In 2006, Providence opened the Providence Newberg Medical Center in Oregon that included energy efficient features such as occupancy sensors, daylight controls, centralized lighting control systems and boilers that operate at 95% efficiency. That year, Providence projected the organization’s energy savings would reach $3.4 million.
Healthcare providers can take advantage of the Energy Star program by becoming an Energy Star partner. On the company’s end, the partnership calls for measuring, tracking and establishing a benchmark for energy use, implementing a plan using Energy Star strategies to improve energy use and adopting ways to educate staff and the public.
In return, the EPA will provide tools and resources to help track and improve energy use and recognize the provider as a partner and Energy Star Challenge supporter on the Energy Star website.
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