Design/furnishings feature — 'Green' acres?
As hospitals lead the way, the healthcare field is catching on to the benefits of building environmentally sound buildings.Long-term care facilities have placed lots of attention on interior design in recent years, mostly on creating environments that are less institutional and more home-like for residents. The results often have been impressive, with creative use of colors, lighting and foliage producing aesthetically pleasing and comfortable atmospheres.
"Environment," however, takes on a whole other connotation when the goal is to create an earth-friendly and resident-safe facility. Authorities in the field maintain that the time has come for facility operators to embrace the concept of "sustainability" in their approach to interior design practices, including furnishings, textiles, appliances, surfaces and operations practices.
The Environmental Protection Agency defines sustainability as "the ability to achieve continuing economic prosperity while protecting the natural systems of the planet and providing a high quality of life for its people." Achieving sustainable solutions calls for stewardship; and the EPA asserts that "everyone – individuals, communities, businesses and governments – are all stewards of the environment."
Healthcare in particular should be attuned to "green" issues, if for no other reason than for resident health and safety, says Jean Hansen, senior associate for the San Francisco-based architecture firm Chong Partners.
"Think of healthcare facilities as places of healing and wellness and they suddenly take on a deeper significance," Hansen proclaims in her white paper, "Furniture for the Healthcare Industry: A Journey to Sustainability." "Space, light and a connection with nature all become essential elements of design. Advancing energy and environmental standards is an important part of making that connection."
Providers must strive to select greener building materials, including furniture and accessories, Hansen says. She recommends that operators look beyond energy and water consumption, examining the details, materials and all the components that go into furniture and textile manufacturing.
"It's not just about looking at how they affect the health of occupants, but also how they affect the health of the environment," she said. "It's also a social justice issue – a 'do no harm' philosophy."
Environmental groups like Washington-based Healthcare Without Harm have been promoting green issues for years, especially as it relates to facility design. HCW Communications Director Stacy Malkan says that while healthcare organizations have trailed other industries and the U.S. lags well behind Europe in green practices, there is a burgeoning environmental movement now gaining ground.
"Healthcare facilities have been a bit slow to the punch, but going green is becoming a major trend," she said. "There is a lot of community interest and philanthropic money, and tax rebates are readily available for energy efficiency and waste management strategies."
Not surprisingly, hospitals are leading the way. As a result, the healthcare industry now has standards for green buildings. Boston alone has several green projects underway at local hospitals. California-based health system giant Kaiser Permanente has been involved in environmental issues for several years and is currently in the seventh year of a green makeover.
While a green movement needs a champion or two to push for procedural changes, getting the staff to think green is a solid start, Malkan said.
"The best way to instill a systemic approach is to get everyone in the facility thinking about it," she said. "Form an environmental safety committee to get people talking about the whole life cycle of products from purchasing to waste management. For instance, look at how to recycle old computers and appliances – think about the safest means of disposal for each product. From there you can develop processes."
Collaborative effort sought
Manufacturing is the logical starting point for environmental consciousness, but it cannot work without everyone's participation up and down the supply chain, Hansen states in her white paper.
"Some would argue that the manufacturer of the finished product should take ultimate responsibility for making sure that materials and production processes are as green as possible," she said. "But cooperation with suppliers in adhering to the highest possible environmental standards, as well as engaging in green manufacturing research and development, are also key to a more sustainable future."
Some manufacturers, such as Dalton, GA-based flooring maker Tandus, already are taking the green theme very seriously. Ridley Kinsey, general manager of healthcare markets, says the company has taken a multi-dimensional view of environmental sustainability – not only looking at materials and processes, but the impact of its products on the living spaces they occupy.
"If you look at healthcare, there are some different and critical performance requirements," Kinsey said. "In long-term care, you are dealing with residents who often are in fragile health, so our ultimate objective is to create a more healing environment."
As a result, products like the C & A Powerbond RS soft floor covering are designed to provide a slip-resistant, non-glare surface while offering the durability to withstand the constant foot and rolling-wheel traffic of a 24/7 healthcare facility, Kinsey said. Moreover, the closed-cell design is intended to provide better temperature distribution, quieter ambience and resistance to spills, stains and odors.
"Cleaner, warmer, quieter surroundings help reduce resident stress and blood pressure levels," Kinsey said. "It also offers facilities a competitive advantage when it comes to hiring because staff members want a healthier workplace."
Wichita, KS-based INVISTA also has placed a "green" emphasis on the manufacture of its products, most notably with its Antron nylon carpet fiber, said Henning Bloech, manager of environmental initiatives for INVISTA's Commercial Division.
"We promote a multifaceted approach to sustainability, focusing on a product's overall environmental impact," he said, pointing out heightened demand from healthcare facilities. "If the overall commercial building market is an indicator, healthcare facilities will be making green design a permanent initiative. In other words, 'green' is not just a passing fad."
Antron nylon was the first carpet fiber to be third-party certified, and now recertified, as an Environmentally Preferable Product by Scientific Certification Systems, a third-party certifier of environmental claims. Additionally, Antron fibers are available with 90% post-industrial recycled content and the Antron Reclamation Program, developed in 1991, was the first program of its kind in the flooring industry.
European manufacturers, such as Witten, Germany-based VÃ¶lker Better Beds make recycling a regular practice. In VÃ¶lker's case, the company has elevated recycling to the point where it has turned waste wood into its own power generator, said Jeff Hertz, president of Schnecksville, PA-based Hertz Supply, the American distributor for the beds.
"What the company doesn't use, it sells back to the grid," he said.
The green challenge
Environmental advocates concede that converting to a green facility isn't the easiest course of action to take and that it sometimes can be more expensive than conventional methods.
"The challenge we all face is identifying those materials and methods of production that are better and safer," Hansen said. "Additionally, we are challenged with developing the wisdom and understanding to find the right balance or trade-off and to make sure we are on a continual course of improvement. Having information about materials, processes and other issues is important in making more informed decisions and asking more detailed questions about furniture."
Malkan adds that while it may cost more to go green in some cases, it isn't true across the board.
"Kaiser has chosen top-grade materials at no extra cost," she said. "Healthcare facilities can exercise some purchasing leverage to drive prices down. You also have to look at the life-cycle cost analysis and long-term return on investment in order to determine the best value."
To be sure, healthcare facilities are not only well positioned to drive changes toward a more environmentally friendly landscape, it is their obligation to do so, Malkan concludes.
"The green movement is the wave of the 21st century and it makes sense for healthcare to take the lead," she says. "After all, people in healthcare care about health and this is a huge opportunity for them to change the way things are done to ensure a much more sustainable economy in the future."
Green materials checklist
Materials are an essential element in determining which interior design products are green. To help providers, the architect Jean Hansen of San Francisco-based Chong Partners has devised the following checklist. As you consider your next purchase, consider these environmentally friendly materials:
- Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood.
- Non-vinyl, non-woven textiles that are renewable, such as wool.
- Fabrics with non-toxic dyes.
- Foam and fabrics that do not contain halogenated or brominated flame retardants. Look for seating that uses a mesh textile only, without any additional upholstery foam.
- Crypton fabrics and others with similar finishes, such as Nano Pel and Gore Seating Protection.
- Substitutes for formaldehyde (an adhesive and binding agent), such as methylene biphenyl isocyanate and lignum, a natural binder found in fibers.
- Products that use recycled feedstock, including packaging.
For more green information ...
The following Web sites offer ideas and guidance providers can use to create their own environmentally friendly facilities:
Healthcare Without Harm
Hospitals For a Healthy Environment
Green Guide for Health Care
Environmental Building News, Volume 13, Number 6 (June 2004), "Flame Retardants Under Fire" www.BuildingGreen.com
McDonough Braungart Design Chemistry, www.mbdc.com
"Cleaning for Health: Products & Practices for a Safer Indoor Environment," www.informinc.org/
Greenpeace, "Plastics 101: A Glossary of Terms," www.greenpeace
VÃ¶lker Better Beds, www.hertz
Terratex, Interface Fabrics Group, www.terratex.com
Shaw Industries, www.shawfloors.com
Carnegie Textiles, www.carnegie
Brayton Furniture, www.brayton.com
Verde Interior Product www.Verdeproducts.com