A Healthier Planet Starts With Hospitals

Eleven Strategies to Reduce Energy Use and Increase Wellbeing

February 23, 2021

Principal / Sustainable Design Leader, NBBJ

@MargaretMontgo1

While hospitals are dedicated to healing, they are some of the most resource-intensive buildings on the planet. On average, they use twice the energy of most other building types. In the U.S., the healthcare system accounts for 10% of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions.

Typically complex and large, hospitals must operate 24/7. While essential, this results in higher energy use than a typical building. This has both an immediate and direct impact — in the cost of operational energy use — as well as longer term, significant effects of climate change on public and individual health. It’s important to address energy consumption in hospitals as it can lower operating costs, extend the life of utility equipment, reduce emissions and perhaps most important, create environments that support life especially at fragile moments.

How can hospitals reduce their energy use — as part of a holistic system of sustainable benefits — and stay operationally resilient, but still maintain solid, round-the-clock care? Fortunately, design can help hospitals tackle these sustainability issues.

In the U.S., hospitals have an average energy use intensity (EUI) — which is energy use per square foot — of 234 kbtu/sf/year. Yet a holistic system of design strategies now make it possible to reduce the energy use of healthcare buildings by almost 70%.

Two new hospitals in the Seattle area, including Overlake Hospital Medical Center’s FutureCare East Tower and St. Michael’s Medical Center Acute Care Expansion, utilize simple yet innovative design features to dramatically lower their energy use. Together, both hospitals illustrate key ways healthcare buildings can lower their energy use and achieve groundbreaking performance. Below are a series of sustainable design features hospitals can implement so they are more energy-efficient, employ healthier materials and reduce their carbon footprint.

Key Strategies to Lower Energy Use and Foster Sustainable Healthcare Systems

Energy Modeling as a Design Tool
Much in the same way that an institution begins a design and construction project with a budget — which is used as a constant measurement tool — a project can benefit from an “energy budget” to steer energy performance design. An energy budget sets an energy target at the beginning of the project and deploys modeling tools to measure the impact of a building’s needs and design changes on iterative energy, in a similar way that construction estimates work to track the progress of the work and keep the project on track. It’s critical to monitor energy and carbon budgets from the beginning so the client and design team can set and achieve sustainable goals, check progress and adjust at each phase to be sure the project is on budget.

Outside the Building
In new hospital construction and renovations, it is critical to address the exterior of the hospital. In climates with variable temperatures, outdoor design strategies can keep both heat out in the summer and the cold out in the winter. Shades on the outside of a building can help keep the interior from getting too warm, providing a triple benefit: it decreases the use of mechanical systems and lowers operational costs to cool the building, allows the use of smaller and more efficient heating and cooling systems and makes spaces more comfortable for patients, caregivers and visitors.

High-Performance Windows
Views to nature can speed healing. In patient rooms, windows with two or three layers of glass can reflect heat gain and provide insulation. In some facility types, patient rooms can benefit from operable windows — those that can open and close. Where that’s not feasible, amenity areas like caregiver break rooms and dining areas can benefit from both the natural ventilation and daylight, which can improve cognition, boost mood and decrease stress.

Efficient Heating and Cooling
Heating and cooling strategies that capture outdoor cool air to cool hospital interiors and heated air to preheat fresh air entering the building can reduce energy use by more than 200%. To build efficient heating and cooling systems, it can help to tune the amount of energy needed so equipment only runs when it is required. For example, hospitals can use high-efficiency air cooled chillers for the peak cooling loads in summer and high-efficiency condensing boilers for the coldest days in winter. It’s also important to invest in better controls, especially to allow unoccupied turndown of high-intensity spaces such as operating rooms. By building in adaptability, these smart systems can save significant amounts of energy.

Separate Thermal and Ventilation Systems
An additional building technique is to separate systems that distribute fresh air with those that warm and cool spaces, especially in hospital inpatient rooms. This goes hand-in-hand with exterior building strategies and sun protection touched on above. Used together, these techniques can create smaller energy demands and as a result, more efficient equipment for cooling and heating. In addition, keeping an air circulation system separate allows for more compact ducts and less dedicated space for these systems.

Lighting Strategies
Smart lighting strategies such as features that maximize abundant natural light via high-performance windows, light wells and skylights, particularly in cloudy climates, can help reduce energy use. Additional strategies include dimmable interior and exterior LED lighting that is programmed to turn off when not in use.

Utility Efficiency Funding
Although utility funding varies by country and jurisdiction, where available, utility rebates can compress the return on investment for high efficiency projects to a shorter timeframe, sometimes to just a year or two.

Innovative Materials
By prioritizing healthy materials, healthcare environments can reduce the amount of greenhouse gases emitted during the production and construction process and create spaces that better support healing. Although typically used in commercial buildings, cross-laminated timber (CLT) — pre-fabricated engineered wood panels — provide unique opportunities to transform healthcare environments. CLT has a low carbon footprint and the natural healing benefits of wood that calm and reduce stress. It can also be easily assembled off-site to save construction time and costs, increasing the timeframe in which clinical operations and revenue can take place.

Renewable Energy
Rather than rely solely on fossil fuels for energy, transitioning to clean, renewable energy, such as solar roofs in sunny climates, can provide a sustainable supplemental energy source. Other renewable energy sources such as wind power can provide a greener source of energy, and even help hospitals become energy independent. Transitioning to clean, renewable energy will be a key energy management move over the coming years as the cost competitiveness of renewables overtakes fossil fuel costs. Make a plan for electrification — if not immediately, then over time. This will enable healthcare campuses to wean themselves off fossil fuels and take advantage of a rapidly greening electrical grid and the attendant carbon emission reductions.

Landscape Elements
Outdoor landscape features like trees and green plants not only lower the temperature of their immediate surroundings in the summer, they can significantly increase air quality as they release oxygen, store carbon dioxide and filter out pollutants, making them natural purifiers. Views and exposure to nature has numerous restorative benefits for patients and caregivers, such as lower heart rate and blood pressure, and less need for pain medicine. Furthermore, hospital gardens with sustainably grown local food can nourish staff and patients while reducing costs associated with imported food.

Green Transportation
It’s important to consider what happens outside the hospital too. Staff, patient and visitor travel to and from a hospital can have a crucial impact. Transit connections, areas to wait for rideshares, walkability and bike-friendliness — via design strategies such as welcoming landscaped paths and covered designated areas for drop-off and pick-up — can reduce the reliance on cars and the costs associated with parking development and maintenance.

To Summarize
The conversation around energy-efficient and sustainable hospitals is only just beginning. As more hospitals consider sustainability as not just a “nice-to-have,” but a critical component of their overall strategy and business model, countries will continue to see accelerated progress. With the right policies, further breakthroughs and innovative systems — such as all-electric and net zero carbon facilities — hospitals can lower and even eliminate carbon emissions from energy consumption. As a result, they can reduce the use of critical resources, provide long term cost-savings and support a healthier environment for people and the planet.

 

Banner image courtesy Bruce Damonte.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

Focus in the Workplace

How to Support Individuals and Teams for Success

February 17, 2021

Principal, Workplace Strategist, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This is the second article in a six-part series on five different work modes. The first piece outlined a framework for each work mode, while subsequent posts explore a single work mode in greater depth — including focus, collaborate, learn, socialize and rest.

This post was co-authored by Kelly Griffin and Alyson Erwin.

 

One of the most valuable assets in the creative economy is the ability to focus — to deeply concentrate and immerse oneself on a task at hand — and have the time to do so. Yet as new information and data is produced, disseminated and shared 24/7 — and an infinite array of technology makes people more connected than ever before — carving out the time to focus can be a challenge. Interruptions and distractions decrease productivity. Studies show that after an interruption, it can take an average of 25 minutes to refocus, and multi-tasking is bad for the brain.

To help achieve the ideal mental state for heightened creativity, innovation and productivity, one of the most critical factors is having the right space for focus work. While the pandemic has shown the benefits of focused work at home (with potentially fewer interruptions and more choices about where to focus), as employees return to the office, the workplace can utilize a design framework to support focus work so people can make the most of their time. Below are three ways to optimize this essential work mode.

Define the amount and type of focus work needed.
First, determine the percentage of focus work needed for employees, departments and the organization as a whole. In some businesses, such as accounting firms, many people conduct a majority of work heads-down. Yet other fields, such as IT, require more time for collaborative activities. Note that focus work encompasses a variety of tasks: at one end is more routine and repetitive- work that requires concentration and accuracy (for example, data input) and at the other is creative flow-oriented focus work such as drafting a presentation or developing a strategy.

Focus work can also be solo-oriented or team-based. Individual focus work is typical for roles such as a software developer, financial analyst or mechanical engineer. Yet focus work can also be conducted as a group, where multiple people are creating or producing deliverables in real time. For instance, this could be in a workshop session, common in creative fields like entertainment and advertising. It can also be a quiet group study zone: these spaces are typically found in libraries.

Group focus is distinct from traditional collaboration, which is more interactive and broadly includes conversations, planning discussions, debate and critiques. Group focus is required when a team is working together to solve a specific problem or are working toward a deadline and would benefit from no distractions or interruptions. Workplaces that enable a full spectrum of focus work can boost productivity and innovation for individuals and teams.

Identify areas that could be repurposed or created for focus work.
Next, it can be helpful to evaluate the existing spaces in which focus work occurs. Where are employees most productive, and what are the elements that make that space successful? Do focus workers always need to present in the office? How can staff adapt offsite? Answers to these questions can help pinpoint opportunities to redefine and build focus space.

Focus activities should take place in areas away from distractions, so individuals, teams and companies can foster healthy focus habits for solid chunks of time, ideally in 50 to 90 minute chunks. Spaces that eliminate and reduce interruptions from technology, smartphones, and other people, can set the foundation for successful focus work so new ideas can be developed and implemented. Read on for a few ideas below.

Implement strategies to heighten focus work.
To tailor environments for focus work, it can be helpful to consider different planning and design elements, such as location, acoustics, adaptability and access. Below are a few attributes to consider.

  • Consider where singular and group focus work should take place. How much real estate for focus work is needed? Are there several locations that can serve different types of focus work, or one or two core spaces that can flex for different focus mode requirements? Consider visibility and accessibility and how this might this shift for solo and group focus modes. In observations of employee work patterns, individuals will travel far from their desk and team’s space for focus work, while teams like to conduct group focus sessions in the immediate vicinity.
  • Seamlessly enable people to check distractions at the door. Create a space that is irresistibly welcoming and energizing, where focus time is sacred and acknowledged. Areas for focus work should reduce visual and acoustic interruptions: this could include additional acoustical dampening, as well as comfortable, inviting furniture like couches and lounge chairs, soft floor coverings and flowing drapes. If available, face furniture toward views of green space and natural light to help boost mood and productivity. Even the ability to have music piped in, from soothing nature sounds to upbeat rock-and-roll anthems, can help set the right tone.
  • Develop responsive problem-solving and “thought” zones. To help staff foster creativity and ideas as a group, flexible innovation-hubs can enable people to come together for distinct bursts of problem-solving in a way that is productive and engaged for each team member. This means providing enough personal space for each person to feel comfortable, but not crowded. Customizable elements, such as dimmable lighting and temperature controls can adapt spaces to different team members’ needs. Movable partitions can allow space to expand or contract as needed, while adjustable ceiling heights can be tailored to the task at hand: research shows lower ceiling heights support route tasks while higher ceilings foster creative work.
  • Indicate availability. The ability to easily reserve focus areas online and/or through a smart keypad immediately outside a space can facilitate and streamline planned and impromptu sessions. It can also be helpful to indicate when focus sessions are underway, perhaps through a red light at the threshold that turns on when the space is in use and changes to green when the space is available.

In Summary
The design of physical space is just one part of the picture. Organizations can build cultures that embrace focus work and recognize how integral this work mode is to create knowledge and generate insights. This can be accomplished by setting aside specific times each day for people to be “off stage,” effectively giving them permission to create the conditions they need to concentrate. In a hyperconnected world that runs on innovation, the right space for focus work can kickstart the foundation of creativity. The above strategies offer guidelines to help modify and develop these spaces in the workplace, while boosting staff agency, so focus work is maximized for employees and teams returning to the workplace following the pandemic.

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX

Tackling a Biden Challenge with Artificial (and Human) Intelligence

February 10, 2021

Managing Partner, NBBJ

Editor’s Note: This post initially appeared on Architect’s Newspaper. It was co-authored by NBBJ Managing Partner Steve McConnell, Yale University Professor Phil Bernstein, journalist Cliff Pearson and senior AI researcher Dr. Mark Greaves, Ph. D.

 

Tucked within President Biden’s year-one legislative agenda on climate change is a call to build “zero net energy buildings at zero net cost.” This is a bold challenge that resonates powerfully in both the architectural profession and America as a whole. Like many great challenges, it will require a transformation in the way a broad range of disciplines work to shape the built environment.

The benefits of meeting Biden’s challenge are huge. According to the nonprofit organization Architecture 2030, “The urban built environment is responsible for 75% of annual GHG [greenhouse gas] global emissions: buildings alone account for 39%. Eliminating these emissions is the key to addressing climate change and meeting the Paris Climate Agreement targets.” So, the ability to cost-effectively produce zero net energy buildings would over time make a massive positive impact on our climate problems.

The root of the challenge’s difficulty is that designing and building great buildings is already a classic “wicked problem.” Wicked problems are defined by imprecise goals, incomplete knowledge, deeply interconnected subproblems, and the need to continuously make “best guess” tradeoffs. Instead of right or wrong answers, wicked problems require us to think in terms of better or worse solutions. Biden’s challenge adds substantially to the difficulty of these tradeoffs in architectural design, and further requires that we do this at zero net added cost.

Good architecture emerges from successfully balancing the interests of all stakeholders in a building project, while simultaneously optimizing innumerable decisions about structure, mechanics, economics, and aesthetics. Adding a zero net energy requirement will likely result in either increasing the cost of design and construction, or cutting back on space or amenities.

We think it is critical that the zero net energy buildings envisioned by President Biden also make positive contributions as works of architecture and valuable parts of the urban fabric. Otherwise, we could end up with super-insulated, faceless boxes that reduce our carbon footprint and are cheap to design, but undermine the vibrant character of our neighborhoods and towns. The Biden challenge sits at the intersection of some very big issues, from energy efficiency and environmental justice to advanced building materials and lively urban communities. It’s inspiring, but daunting, to confront.

Fortunately, the design profession is evolving, as society demands more from the people in charge of our buildings, neighborhoods, and cities. Architects now work in cross-disciplinary teams and handle an expanding spectrum of tradeoffs involving environmental factors, complex client needs, elaborate regulatory requirements, and constantly changing prices and availability of building materials. Architects also routinely balance less quantifiable factors such as the health of impacted communities, societal goals for the built environment, and justice in labor practices across the supply chain. To achieve this, they rely on a combination of deep design knowledge, extensive experience in how different designs will ultimately function, and powerful computational tools that can illustrate the impact of various tradeoffs. Meeting Biden’s challenge in a cost-neutral manner, though, is beyond the capability of current tools and practices.

We believe that new developments in artificial intelligence (AI) are the key to conquering Biden’s zero net energy challenge. Just as AI has revolutionized fields as disparate as drug discovery and self-driving cars, new AI-driven architectural tools can provide the support needed to cost-effectively design inspiring zero net energy buildings. Modern machine-learning algorithms don’t blindly follow a set of preprogrammed rules, but instead develop their capabilities by analyzing large sets of examples. With more and more data and feedback, they perform better and better. The latest AI language models such as GPT-3 are trained on billions of sentences from the web and can generate astonishingly fluent essays from a simple prompt.  AI software can produce well-rounded stories from just a few pieces of information, competent poems and pictures from a few prompt words, and even satisfying music from a few snippets of melody.

Could an AI tool produce compelling zero net energy building designs at zero net cost all by itself? No. Architects wrestle every day with wicked problems that are essential to creating compelling building designs, and many of the important design tradeoffs they make cannot be defined tightly enough to train an AI algorithm. However, AI promises to free them to focus more on what they can uniquely do: bring that hard-to-explain flair and creative spark to solving difficult design problems.

AI will make it possible for architects to cost-effectively address the enormous complexity inherent in the Biden challenge, by analyzing huge amounts of data to rapidly present options for design teams to consider and refine. This is essentially what Spotify does when it recommends music we might like. In architecture, AI can accelerate the design process by identifying subtle patterns that are likely to satisfy a set of design requirements. It can rapidly generate plausible zero net energy configurations, accounting for a broad range of factors and constraints. Finally, AI can work with advanced simulation technology to help architects assess the effectiveness of various design solutions to satisfy the diverse constituencies for a building project.

AI promises to be a disruptive technology for architects, but it is not a total solution. In the end, design requires understanding and evaluating a series of tradeoffs and picking the best ones. Designing great buildings that inspire their stakeholders is a task that people do better than any algorithm. The art of architecture requires a creative spirit behind it, even as designers apply increasingly sophisticated digital tools to tackle the wicked, fantastically difficult problems of delivering compelling, zero net energy buildings at zero net added cost.

President Biden, we in the architecture and computation fields accept your challenge and look forward to working with your administration to transform buildings in America.

______________________________________________________________________________

Steve McConnell is an architect and managing partner at the global design firm NBBJ.

Phillip Bernstein is associate dean and professor adjunct at the Yale School of Architecture.

Mark Greaves is a senior AI researcher.

Clifford Pearson is a journalist who covers architecture and urbanism.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the positions of their employers.

Image by Silvestri Matteo / Unsplash

Share this:  envelope facebook twitter googleplus tumblr linkedin
Comment Follow nbbX
Next Page »