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By Naomi Millán, Senior Editor
Health Care Facilities Article Use Policy
At the Portland VA Medical Center, a bit of guidance for making healthcare interiors green is offered by an executive order requiring all new construction and major remodels to achieve LEED for Healthcare Silver at a minimum. The Portland VA has also earned three Green Globes. Though most of the LEED considerations revolve around energy, there are some interior considerations, says Melisse Kuhn, project manager, facilities management services for the center. Where some use the LEED system as the end goal, for Kuhn it's only the starting point. Taking on every single interior material they might have to specify on a project — paint, flooring, furnishings and their textiles, etc. — Kuhn did a deep dive into all the available information on all the available choices to craft the Portland VA's interiors standards palette.
When it came time for specifying materials for Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas in Austin's South Tower addition, the bar had already been set. The main facility had earned LEED Platinum in 2008. The South Tower earned the first-ever LEED for Healthcare Platinum designation earlier this year. Interior health was a priority for the South Tower, says Michele Van Hyfte, environmental stewardship manager for Seton Healthcare Family. "All of the credits that addressed the patient experience were given high priority," she says. "We felt it was a strategy where the project could excel."
Just as was done in Portland, criteria were established for all of the interiors materials. "Every finish, every surface, anything that you could see or touch went through a stringent process of making sure it was the healthiest, most environmentally friendly product on the market," Van Hyfte says. Technical details were based on LEED for Healthcare as well as the goals the team had set for the entire project, she says.
"When you set goals for a high-performing space, you need tools and LEED is a tool, it's not the end game," Van Hyfte says. "It's the tool that develops the language and the technical criteria that helps us achieve our goal." If facility managers are setting out to pursue sustainable interiors without LEED, it is possible, she says, but they will need to establish a common language and hold everyone accountable.
It could be more than a little bit overwhelming to start from nothing and say you're going to establish sustainable interiors at a facility. Kuhn suggests starting with the product that is specified the most at the facility. "Find the thing you are specifying the most and start there," Kuhn says. "Before you know it, you'll have a really comprehensive standards palette that you can pull from."
For the Portland VA, flooring was the place to start. Located in Oregon, meeting the LEED requirement for sourcing within 500 miles would have really limited the available flooring choices, so instead they looked at recycled content and recyclability and tried to look at benchmarks for what would be equitable with a product that was sourced from within 500 miles of the medical center, she says.
Kuhn acknowledges that making sustainable interiors decisions is not exactly cut and dry. The medical center used to specify VCT but stopped based on the impact of its manufacturing process and what is done with it at end of life. "But we had to recognize that it can last for 100 years if you take care of it," she says. "So how does that all fit into the sustainability considerations?"
When it came time to specify furniture, especially office furniture, which is what is most often ordered, Kuhn expected the 500-mile parameter to again limit their choices, as most furniture is manufactured in the Midwest. To her surprise they were able to source from well within the LEED-preferred radius, and the manufacturer sourced the raw wood and metal materials from only an hour south of the medical center. That allows the VA's clinics to say not only did taxpayer dollars go to sustainable choices, but they also went to support the local economy.
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