RMF’s Greg Hudson and Michael Scruggs had the opportunity to share their expertise on Carbon Neutrality Consideration for Healthcare Facilities on McMillan Pazdan Smith Architecture’s Ideas Shaping Healthcare podcast. Listen below or see links for your preferred podcast service.
Podcast Website: Categories Healthcare (mcmillanpazdansmith.com)
The past few years there have been quite a lot of discussion and movement towards carbon neutrality, net zero, or climate positive. Global companies like Apple have committed to their entire business becoming carbon neutral by 2030—setting an ambitious standard for others to try and follow.
Carbon neutrality refers to the balance between emitting carbon and absorbing carbon emissions from carbon sinks. For clarity, carbon sinks are any system that absorbs more carbon than they emit–such as forest soils and oceans.
Reducing carbon emissions is a global concern, the UN reported in 2020 those countries representing more than 65% of harmful greenhouse gases and more than 70% of the world economy will have committed to achieving net-zero emissions by 2050. The United States has pledged to be carbon-neutral by 2050, aiming for a 65% reduction in planet-warming greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and an all-electric fleet of car and trucks by 2035.
These types of pledges are excellent goals to aim for, however, achieving carbon neutrality for a system as complex as a hospital takes careful, strategic planning and a long-term commitment.
Healthcare campuses are often large, complex, changing environments that have a big carbon footprint. Because healthcare facilities are big energy users, there are very specific environmental conditions and airflow requirements for spaces like operating rooms, imaging suites, and treatment spaces which require high levels of energy to maintain. This makes hospitals in general large producers of carbon either directly or indirectly.
Different emissions are grouped into scopes known as 1,2, and 3 (as defined by the GHG Protocol).
Scope 1 refers to direct emissions–things that produce carbon on site in facilities and company vehicles. Scope 2 two are more indirect ancillary things, like purchased electricity, steam, heating, and cooling. And Scope 3 are downstream activities that are less under the hospital’s control, such as patient transportation, business travel and staff commutes, purchased goods and services, and capital goods.
Most healthcare facilities that want to move the needle in the right direction on carbon emissions should start with Scope 1 and optimize what they have first. One question to ask, is what systems could be switched away from using fossil fuels to an electric solution? These are the things that facilities and owner have the biggest control over which makes changes easier than items that fall into Scopes 2 and 3.
Many hospitals also have big steam systems that use natural gas boilers or diesel generators for the resiliency and reliability of the facility. Obviously, reducing a facility’s dependence on using fossil fuels on-site is a big step in reducing the overall carbon footprint of the facility.
One option that’s becoming more popular in healthcare facilities is transitioning to heat pump technologies. This includes many HVAC systems. This is certainly a deviation from what owners and facilities personnel have been used to but shifting to heat pump equipment and electrifying more of their systems is an effective way to reduce a facility’s carbon footprint, but there’s no “one size fits all” solution.
It’s important to evaluate how equipment impacts the carbon footprint and consider all available alternatives that may have a smaller impact.
Healthcare facilities in rural areas are limited when it comes to choosing sources of power, which may impact their Scope 2 carbon footprint. Some do not have a “green” option nearby. If a hospital can’t access power from a green source, more would have to be done internally, through electrification and other means to offset the carbon created at source.
“It’s about making sure that you’re as efficient as you possibly can be within those systems,” says Gregory Hudson, Project Manager for RMF Engineering.
Before asking stakeholders to agree to large system power changes, get an analysis of your facility’s current carbon footprint.
There are many carbon reducing technologies out there, but no “cookie cutter” solution when it comes to pursuing carbon neutrality. The first step is getting your facility to run as efficiently as possible.
Optimize what you have first, then start to tackle when to replace the biggest carbon culprits.
Carbon neutrality is a worthy goal for any healthcare facility to aspire to, but it may not be possible for every facility. However, if you’re willing to put in a little effort to make your facility more sustainable and efficient, you’ll discover the investments you make today will reap many rewards down the road, and achieve real results that you and your community can be proud of.