Chicago hospital collaborative would reduce energy emissions

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • August 05, 2009 @ 7:00 AM

While Chicago competes to show the world it is worthy of hosting the 2016 Olympics, it’s also poised to show it’s a leader in sustainable health care.

The Chicago Green Healthcare Initiative, a new collaboration among more than a dozen area hospitals, the city’s Department of Environment, the Metropolitan Chicago Healthcare Council and a foundation run by former President Bill Clinton, will push local hospitals to reduce their carbon footprints, embrace sustainable practices and purchase green technology.

While discussions between the hospitals are preliminary, the program is expected to be the first of its kind when finalized in the fall.

Nick DeDominicis, a steering committee member of Health Care Without Harm, another organization involved in the talks, says there are “very solid commitments” among a number hospitals, including the University of Chicago Medical Center, Children’s Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center, Swedish Covenant Hospital, University of Illinois Medical Center, Advocate Healthcare and Resurrection Healthcare.

DeDominicis says the city approached his organization to put the collaboration in motion.

“What we’re seeing is that there’s definitely an uptick in the interest hospitals have in greening their operations,” he says. Area hospitals will have the chance to share information and best practices.

“We’re going to have a program to help them improve their green energy efficiency with how much energy they use and what type of energy they use,” DeDominicis says. “More green energy, whether it’s off the grid, or if they do analysis to build an on-site renewable generator.”

The city’s involvement stems from Mayor Richard M. Daley’s desire to make Chicago the country’s greenest city. DeDominicis says the city approached Health Care Without Harm to engage area hospitals.

As one of the largest energy consumers, the health care industry is ripe to enter into the age of sustainability. But many area hospitals already have taken steps to go green.

Joe DeVoss, assistant vice president for transformation at Rush University Medical Center, says the hospital intends to make all its new buildings LEED certified. Rush has instituted more recycling programs, added green building materials and looks to implement energy-saving measures in its new buildings.

According the U.S. Department of Energy, American hospitals spend about $5 billion a year on energy, and produce more than 30 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions per square foot.

Hospitals, he says, are “energy hogs,” but the collaborative is “a great opportunity for us to share information with other institutions in the Chicago area.”

DeVoss says Rush is hoping to get grant funding to add a “light harvesting” program in one of its new buildings. Rooms would feature sensors that gauge how much natural light is present, automatically adjust blinds and reduce the need for constant use of artificial light.

“I think we’re at a point now that if we don’t reduce our emissions, we’re going to be in trouble,” DeVoss says.

Several meetings between stakeholders already have taken place, and more are planned between now and the fall.

“I think all the hospitals are very committed. There’s no arm-twisting,” says Jonathan Lind, vice president of operations for Swedish Covenant Hospitals, which in recent years has stepped up its recycling efforts and provides organic foods to patients.

Lind says the debate on health care reform has overtaken other important efforts by hospitals, including attempts to green their operations.

“There are so many moving parts in health care,” he says. “But we’re here now, and I think that’s important.”

Mark Lestina, sustainability manager for the University of Chicago Medical Center, says the early discussions within the collaborative coincide with a university project to measure its greenhouse gas emissions. While patient care comes first, he says, it’s imperative to look at how hospitals impact the environment.

“As a leader in health care, we also think it’s important to be a leader in environmental responsibility,” he says. “My thought here is this is a great idea to take a much harder look at our impact on the environment.”

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.