I had a chance to talk to Christine Malcolm, SVP, Hospital Strategy & National Facilities, Kaiser Permanente at the Healthcare Facilities Summit. The major topic at the event was pushing green construction initiatives forward while also reducing cost.

Kaiser, the largest real estate owner in California, builds their facilities for 9% less than the California average and they include many green components. They have over 4,000 small projects and 27 large hospital replacement projects in their capital plan. They finished 10 large hospital replacement projects in the last 21 months.

When thinking about building a new facility, Christine believes that many architects are designing hospitals that are too big. Kaiser hospitals are 1,560 square feet per bed, which is much smaller than what others are designing.

Kaiser look at the removal of toxics from the environment such as dioxins that come from PVC. They make sure they use low VOC paints, monitor the amount of water they use in their landscaping, and use only native plants.

There are 150 environmentally friendly recommendations that they put into their designs. 98% of these recommendations are also lower first cost. They focus on the convergence of environmentally friendly and economically sound.

Recyclable HDPE (High-Density PolyEthylene), which is more environmentally friendly than PVC for piping, also saves money.

They use a certain kind of more environmentally sensitivepavement outside of buildings which also saves money. The fabrics used in new hospitals are more environmentally friendly and save $650,000 per hospital.

These recommendations are not only environmentally friendly, but they save money as well.

When Christine first started, she realized that 48% of their direct energy use came from buildings. This is a depressing statistic when you have 1,000 buildings. What was creating the large carbon footprint? It was almost entirely due to electricity consumption because the source of most electricity is coal.

To reduce energy consumption, Kaiser is tuning heating, ventilating and air conditioning so that it runs well (commissioning and re-commissioning the sites). They are also limiting energy use. For example, lights in offices go out at 6pm. There are energy sensors in all the buildings. If you don’t move for 2 minutes during the day, the lights go out as well.

They flex their power. Whenever it’s really hot they turn the thermostats up. Whenever it gets really cold they turn the thermostats down.

Data centers are energy hogs. Kaiser is currently exploring ways to reduce energy consumption at their data centers.

We’re at the beginning of product development for green and low-cost products. There is a tremendous opportunity for creativity – better solutions that cost less.

The healthcare design and construction industry has put a lot of press out there that green buildings can cost 20% more. Of course they can if you make poor choices.

But it’s also possible to go through a list of hundreds of green initiatives and to pick out the ones that make the most sense, from an environmentally friendly and a cost-conscious perspective. And with more innovation in the space, that list will continue to expand.

Where the rubber meets the pavement. Or in this case, where environmentally friendly meets lowest cost option.