No matter the size or nature of the sustainability initiative, several steps are key to its success. One is starting with credible data. "Data is key to making this happen. Otherwise, it's too intangible," Vernon says.
While it's important to help all employees become more aware of the environmental impact a facility can have, Manshum is careful when referring to green initiatives. "Some people hear the word 'green' and say, 'It's all phooey,'" he says. He focuses on the financial impact, describing how savings can be invested to enhance care. "Everybody wins when we can impact the environment to positively impact health."
Neuner notes that many green projects offer a return on investment of three to five years. "I normally talk about energy savings as an investment." He says that a building's initial cost generally accounts for 11 percent of overall expenses, while 50 percent comes from energy and operations.
Support from both executives and employees is critical, Perkinson says. When he asked for volunteers for a "green team," he was pleasantly surprised to get responses from about 20 employees from different departments. The group meets once a month during lunch hours to bring each other up to date on initiatives. The involvement of the facilities staff is critical, Perkinson says. "If you don't have facility support, it's destined to doom because so much of it relates to facility operations."
Even with widespread support, obtaining funding remains difficult. Cleveland Clinic and Geisinger have modified their funding process. Now, a green infrastructure project competes for funding with infrastructure projects, not medical investments.
Neuner has used operating leases to proceed with some investments. For instance, the annual savings of $460,000 from a lighting upgrade more than covers the yearly lease payment of $300,000.
At the same time, the organization benefits. "The mission of a health care organization is to improve the health of the communities we serve," Neuner says. Reducing the amount of energy consumed and pollutants generated by the organization, while also cutting costs, helps achieve that goal.
Karen Kroll, a contributing editor for Building Operating Management, is a freelance writer who has written extensively about real estate and facility issues.
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