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Energy Efficiency in Healthcare Facilities

The U.S. Energy Information Administration reports that while large hospitals account for less than 2 percent of all commercial floor space, they consume 5.5 percent of the total delivered energy used by the commercial sector. In addition, with healthcare costs on the rise, targeting energy use for cost reductions makes sense because it is one budget item that can be directly controlled by a healthcare facility.

The objective of this CARD grant, awarded to CLASS 5 Energy of Vadnais Heights, Minn., was to pilot a comprehensive behavioral and operational energy efficiency program for the healthcare market, with a goal of creating a program that could reduce energy use and costs without a significant financial investment and without affecting patient care. The partner for the pilot program was Ridgeview Medical Center (RMC), which was selected based on its previous sustainability efforts, enthusiasm toward the behavior component of the program, and diverse building mix (including a hospital, five clinics, four professional buildings, a hospice, a HomeCare/HME site, and a staff office building).

The pilot period was from June 2011 through December 2012. During the pilot period, there were no asset projects implemented and RMC’s only investment was its leadership’s time to oversee and implement the program.

  • The main operational strategies included:
  • Manually adjusting thermostats in all areas except patient rooms that were open 24/7 and having setbacks for areas of the organization that were not open 24/7;
  • Installing timers on equipment that can be shut off on evenings and/or weekends without affecting patient care;
  • Utilizing built-in power-saving features on equipment and computers;
  • Asking employees to shut off lights in unoccupied areas even for short periods of time;
  • Encouraging the use of task lighting instead of overhead lights; and
  • De-lamping in over-lit areas.

The main behavioral strategies included:

  • Demonstrating support by leadership;
  • Identifying internal coordinator/core team;
  • Creating a facility-wide Energy Steering Committee;
  • Holding an all-facility public kickoff;
  • Establishing a network of peer champions;
  • Tracking employee suggestions and providing feedback on implementation status; and
  • Communicating expectations and progress frequently and through many mediums

With 15 months of data, results indicate that a healthcare-focused behavior energy program can be successfully implemented. RMC saved more than $75,000 and reduced overall energy use by 6 percent (see Figure 1). As the figure indicates, savings tended to be minimal or negative in the first few quarters of the pilot, which is expected as staff learns about the program and implementation is in transition, and then ramped up in later quarters.

Figure 1. Percent Energy Savings by Quarter for Hospitaland for All 13 Buildings in Pilot

Figure 1 - Energy Savings by Quarter at Ridegview

Savings varied by facility, with some of the off-site RMC clinics obtaining savings that were significantly higher than the overall average (see Figure 2). One reason for this difference was that the clinics are not required to operate 24/7, but another reason was one or two employees at high-saving clinics who were particularly committed to the energy saving effort and were able to provide a higher level of enthusiasm and motivation for other employees, highlighting just how much difference an on-site champion can potentially make.

Figure 2. Energy Savings by Quarter for Five Off-Site RMC Clinics in Pilot

Figure 2 - Energy Savings by Quarter for Five Off-Site Clinics in Pilot

Results of a survey conducted in the last quarter of the pilot indicate that the vast majority of employees were fully engaged and that the pilot program has changed their behaviors, with 85 percent reporting they are more likely to engage in energy saving behavior and 91 percent stating they learned that individuals can have an impact on organizational energy costs.

The pilot concluded that any organization interested in achieving similar energy and monetary savings without a significant capital investment can do so, provided three key components are in place:

  1. Senior-level support for the effort. When employees know that organizational leaders are committed to the effort, they are much more likely to participate. Moreover, management buy-in helps mobilize human and financial resources to support the effort, expedites coordination of working relationships and schedules across departments, and helps remove any institutional barriers to success.
  2. An internal coordinator. The internal coordinator serves as the point of connection between building occupants, the facilities team, communications and IT, and the Energy Steering Committee. He or she acts as opinion leader, role model, messenger, “boots on the ground,” and change advocate. 
  3. Measurement. An accurate and timely measurement system for energy savings and cost avoidance is critical to the effort. While many measurement tools are commercially available, RMC utilized CLASS 5’s utility tracking tool.

Details of the program implementation process are given in the final report, “Achieving Energy and Cost Savings in a Healthcare Organization with a Behavior-Based Energy Efficiency Program,” available on the Commerce website. For more information on this CARD project, contact Mary Sue Lobenstein.