Climate Emergency and Green Hospitals

Rethinking strategies, structures and processes

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The impact climate change is having and will have on the planet will directly affect the health of its inhabitants and, as a consequence, health systems will be affected in order to provide the best response possible in terms of education, prevention, direct healthcare and physical therapy.

On the other hand, healthcare structures are usually buildings with a high environmental impact due to the amount of energy they consume and the volume of waste they generate. For this reason, being judge and jury of the problem, subject and object of climate change, now more than ever, the health system should be involved in the solution to the climate emergency we are already experiencing.

The Fundació Sanitaria de Mollet (FSM) is a nonprofit organization that provides social and health services to 165,000 inhabitants in the metropolitan area of Barcelona located 15 km from they city. Its corporate culture stands out for its social approach, firm commitment to social responsibility, and people-centered care model.

The construction of the current Mollet Hospital 11 years ago stimulated the development of a culture of institutional transformation in anticipation of the climate agenda based on different structural points of interest.

The first focus was on a commitment to sustainable architecture that maximized the use of natural light thanks to the design of a horizontal hospital that adapts to the environment and the terrain, humanizing the context and achieving a naturally lit center that is easily accessible to the public. Its interior patios provide natural light and maximum ventilation to 100% of the work stations and care devices, achieving a daily saving on the electricity consumption of 40%.

Adaptation to the environment as a response to climate change.
The horizontal volume favors an adequate contextualization of the building with its surroundings, Hospital de Mollet, Mollet del Vallès, 2010, Mario Corea Arquitectura. Photo © Pepo Segura

A second differentiation was to provide all care spaces and patient rooms with heat radiation ceilings to minimize the consumption of internal climate control. With this system, the hospital reduces the energy input for air-conditioning the patient rooms and offers them a quiet and relaxed environment for their treatment, creating an atmosphere of spiritual care.

A third element was to opt for ventilated facades and sustainable roofs to achieve the maximum use of light and thermal protection to minimize temperature changes.

A very relevant structural element in the hospital’s design was the installation of geothermal energy in 100% of its surface. The geothermal system is the fourth largest in Europe and achieves significant energy savings thanks to its 150 wells that reach a depth of 146 meters. Water at that depth reaches a temperature of 14–16 degrees, minimizing the energy required to cool or heat it on demand. The results of a fully paid-off installation after seven years of operation allow a direct saving of 20% of the electricity to heat or cool the water required and considerably decrease the CO2 footprint.

Another relevant structural element is the use of rainwater thanks to traps that direct it to a central tank, allowing the irrigation of 100% of common spaces without external consumption of additional water.

The installation of a 6,000 m2 area of 1,400 high-efficiency solar panels on 100% of the hospital’s operational roof has also led to considerable savings. Taking advantage of the new regulations that encourage self-consumption, an installation was completed in 2020, which will pay off in five years and allows savings today in CO2 impact that would be equivalent to planting a tree every day and a saving of 20% of the overall energy consumption.

Another decisive factor was the commitment to renewable energy management for 100% of electricity consumption, ensuring that energy purchase was entirely green.

Ventilation and natural light are good solutions to adapt to climate change.
The patios provide natural light and ventilation as well as views of green areas. Mollet Hospital, Mollet del Vallès, 2010, Mario Corea Architecture. Photo © Pepo Segura

A fundamental task has been to improve the waste management culture, which has allowed the hospital to go from managing five systems to 29 different systems in eight years. The commitment of the professionals in the day-to-day management, the systematic reduction of the use of paper and cardboard, and the involvement of external institutions, suppliers, and partners have been key to achieving sustainable results.

As a result of this ongoing policy, the FSM has reduced its CO2 footprint by 72%, water consumption by 20%, gas consumption by 18%, and electricity consumption by 20%.

At the same time, the standardization of processes and comprehensive energy management with a centralized control center has enabled the hospital to obtain numerous environmental certifications and the recognition of the “Silver Award” at the “Ashikaga-Nikken Excellence Award for Green Hospitals” of the International Hospital Federation at the 44th World Hospital Congress 2021.

The future will involve the necessary participation of professionals in the more efficient management of healthcare processes from the point of view of adaptation, the non-overuse of diagnostic resources, the minimization of exposure to ineffective treatments, minimizing waste through extreme uses, adding more teleconsultations, and reducing unnecessary stays in hospitals.

Main image: The obstacle-free roof has allowed for the installation of solar panels in 85% of the built area, Mollet Hospital, Mollet del Vallès, 2010, Mario Corea Arquitectura. Photo © Óscar Sotos

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