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  • Writer's pictureTom Petersen

CleanMed Connect 2021: Resilience, Renewable Energy, and Decarbonization

Updated: Aug 28, 2023

In May, I attended CleanMed Connect 2021 — an annual conference presented by Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm. CleanMed is the epicenter of health care collaboration — with more than 1,000 hospitals and health systems, clinicians, advocacy and community leaders, supply chain companies and purchasers coming together to learn from experts from across the United States on sustainable health care and environmental protection. This year, three areas of focus that I kept seeing repeated throughout sessions, and which bring the most relevance to EES, are Resilience, Renewable Energy, and Decarbonization.


A case study was shared by NYU Lagone, focused on resilience in buildings and infrastructure. Founded in 1836, with almost 20 million square feet of owned/leased property in their portfolio along the coasts of New York, climate change is quite literally a consideration for resilience in 2021. Sea level rise, coastal storms, temperature extremes, wind events, and earthquakes are all on the rise, and Hurricane Sandy was the wake-up call. Flooding beyond the 500-year flood level, power blackouts and district steam shut down were serious challenges — with infrastructure that included below-grade electrical distribution, and flooded fuel tanks and generators. Hurricane Sandy forced NYU Langone to shut down for 59 days because of these factors, and it was time to reassess the campus for resiliency, hardening and protection! A risk assessment was then performed, accounting for levels of probability of similar future climate-related disasters and providing an outline of what will need to be updated. New areas of focus include designing sustainable, LEED buildings, reducing energy and carbon footprints, introducing renewable energy technologies, and investing in sustainability and energy management professionals.

The Baptist Health Center, located in Pensacola, Florida, has recently been forced to reckon with planning for resilience in building. The center has faced historical property loss, primarily due to floods and extreme weather since 2004, with over 78 million dollars in damage. In 2020, resilient health care design also revolved around the challenge of COVID-19! New resilience measures include increasing the number of ICU beds, developing a solution to convert half of the emergency department to negative pressure with the push of a button, and identifying a location on the site for mass testing and vaccinations. As climate change continues to affect the weather and natural disaster occurrences, building infrastructure must continue to adapt with it.

In addition to resilience, pivoting towards renewable energy strategies is imperative to our transition to a decarbonized world. Public health impacts, community benefits, access, costs, and risks must all be a part of the planning process — and we do know that renewables are winning when it comes to saving money! According to the IEA, solar is now the ‘cheapest electricity in history’. Paired with onsite storage, PPAs, virtual PPAs, green tariffs, community solar, REC purchases, and more… renewables are unstoppable. Procuring renewable energy can be one of the most effective steps hospitals can take to reduce their environmental impact and protect community health.

One case study shared at CleanMed focused on the path to carbon neutrality by 2025, at Mass General Brigham. Established in 1811, the third-oldest hospital in America, MGB now consists of about 25 million sq/ft across 700 buildings, and it has already reduced its emissions by 58% from its 2008 baseline. Three steps to the 2025 plan include: energy conservation (including fuel switching), renewable energy procurement and carbon offsets, and on-site energy generation. Recently, MGB entered into a long term agreement for the purchase of 75% of the power and renewable energy credits produced by 28.8 Megawatt wind farm in Antrim, New Hampshire. The installation will lower emissions equivalent to taking over 14,000 cars permanently off the road.

Another system that’s sparked interest is Kaiser Permanente, where resilience is absolutely necessary due to wildfires becoming more commonplace in California and power outages increasing. Whenever the cost of solar can be lower than the avoided cost otherwise, on-site solar is now used by KP. By the end of 2020, 89 KP facilities hosted 50.7 MW of on-site solar generation — for a total generation in 2020 of 63,186 MWH. KP is also making the business case for a microgrid approach in new facilities.

My final highlight from the conference was the discussions taking place around decarbonization, specifically toward a path to net zero and the subsequent actions necessary to get there. A case study on The University of Washington was shared by Mazzetti, which focused on large targets of opportunity where fossil fuels were previously used, specifically ‘reheat energy’. The four points of UW’s plan to net zero include: Reduce (determine ventilation requirements and align code), recycle (wastewater heat recovery and thermal storage), renewables (i.e using the earth for heat storage), and electrification — the long-game strategy. This 4-step process was followed by Gundersen Health System in Wisconsin, a 3.1M sq/ft non-for-profit, physician-led organization with 65 facilities and 8500 employees. Gundersen is now recognized as the first health system in the nation to offset 100% of fossil fuel use with locally produced energy. A milestone, yes, and a blueprint for others. At Environmental and Engineering Solutions, Inc., we combine sustainable facilities management with environmental, health, and safety consulting to ensure your facilities meet or exceed applicable regulations cost-effectively. If these takeaways from CleanMed have inspired you to make a change in the way your health care facility is operated, please reach out to me today at 215-704-1506 or I’d love to help chart your path towards decarbonization and net zero emissions.



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