As hospitals compete more and more aggressively for patients, facility managers are finding themselves in fiercer competition for funds. That's because, often, senior managers decide purchasing a new linear accelerator or MRI machine might be better for recruiting new patients than, say, buying an energy efficient chiller.
So it's incumbent upon facility managers to make their voices heard — to keep sustainability in general but energy efficiency specifically top of mind as an organizational priority. What's more, amidst the myriad opportunities for going green in healthcare facilities — some with tangible paybacks, some with PR value, many with both — energy efficiency is the one strategy that shouldn't get lost in the din. Energy efficiency, say experts, should always be the cornerstone of what facility mangers do.
It's probably safe to assume most facility managers in healthcare have targeted efficiency to some degree. But several strategies can help them push their efficiency goals to the top of the priority heap in the hearts and minds of those who hold the purse strings.
The first and most critical, say experts, is to have good data. "I can't emphasize enough how important it is to have solid data for driving programs, tracking progress, and doing internal and external comparisons," says Don King, vice president of facility operations for Kaiser Permanente, the nation's largest healthcare system. "Without data, decisions become highly politicized and emotional. Data removes that emotion."
At Kaiser Permanente, where utility bills can top $200 million a year system-wide, utility bills are transmitted to a third party, where they're reviewed for validity. "But more importantly, the system allows us to capture the data," says King. Kaiser Permanente also uses the Energy Star Portfolio Manager system to try to get its arms around the sheer quantity of data in its system and compare it both internally and externally. "Benchmarking really means understanding how a building is achieving a particular number," he says. "It should point out buildings we need to be investigating."
For Kaiser-Permanente, knowing which facilities are underperforming helps spread capital where it can help the most. It's part of what King calls the organization's "capital maintenance investment strategy," and energy efficiency is a key part of this program. It helps ensure that efficiency is given its due amidst all the other items in which the organization must invest.
Digging further into efficiency and gleaning data on an equipment-by-equipment basis is also important for keeping energy efficiency fresh in the minds of upper managers. The real function of getting down to system-level data, says Michael Della Barba, director of commissioning services with Environmental Health & Engineering, and an expert on energy efficiency in healthcare facilities, is to understand how these systems are actually performing, and again, to know beyond a shadow of a doubt where money should be spent. "Energy use is a byproduct of performance," he says. "We collect data so we can understand operational and demand profiles. When you focus on how systems are being used, where there is inherent energy waste, you can determine where the energy savings are." That, in turn, is where money spent will have the most impact.
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