First, do no harm – Targeting Net-Zero Emissions in Healthcare Design

Pictured above: the Riedman Health Center in Rochester, NY was sustainably designed to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver Certification.

Most would agree that dramatic climate change affects our lives and the planet. As many of us work to reduce our environmental footprint, healthcare is among key industries seeking ways to mitigate or eliminate greenhouse gasses, with one mammoth target in their sights: net-zero carbon emissions.

It’s no surprise that hospitals are all in. They emit a staggering 4.4% (some estimate higher) of all worldwide net harmful discharge, which measures up to five million tons of waste or the equivalent of 514 coal-fired power plants (Hospitals race to save patients – and the planetAmerican Association of Medical Colleges).

The statistics are shocking.

Still heavily reliant on fossil fuels, the healthcare industry has additional factors contributing to the grim picture. An expanding population, global conflicts, natural disasters, and crippling pandemics have medical centers ratcheted to maximum capacity and discharging harmful emissions at a much higher rate. Making matters worse, the current two-year supply-chain interruption has kept eco-friendly supply choices out of reach.

Decarbonization Becomes a Movement

With professional organizations and governing agencies continuing their guidance and support for sustainable design practices, project teams see new meaning in Medicine’s Hippocratic Oath of “First do no harm.” As a more unified push towards what’s possible gains momentum, designers are uniquely positioned to partner with health systems and offer solutions for the net-zero battle.

Capitalizing on Ready Resources

Our abundant natural resources above and below ground offer strong allies in powering, heating, cooling, and lighting with little or no adverse consequences.

In addition to the more commonly used wind and solar installations powering facilities, abundant underground aquifers can also be advantageous. Tapping this ready resource to aid facility air conditioning eliminates the need for intense mechanical cooling systems, and once used, water can be safely discharged back underground for re-use.

Let the Compass be Your Guide

A building’s directional orientation can be leveraged to warm, light or shade interior spaces by capitalizing on the earth’s natural 24/7, day/night cycle. Depending on the structure’s needs and geographical location, this technique often yields significant energy savings without negative emissions impact.

Re-use, Repurpose, Recycle

Repurposing existing spaces or structures can play a major role in lowering a facility’s carbon footprint. Since these projects don’t require major site development, the amount of construction waste entering a landfill is significantly less.

Convertible interiors are also valuable multi-taskers in the battle against greenhouse gases. Moveable/reconfigurable walls, partitions—even entire medical wings—can be easily adjusted, quickly repurposed, or moved entirely to allow for changing needs while mitigating the negative impacts typical of new construction.

Hospitals Join the Movement

In re-writing their sustainable stories, earnest actions by health systems across the globe have also started to gain traction. Water conservation campaigns, robust recycling initiatives, and commitments to purchasing locally sourced eco-friendly products have all become popular green initiatives that contribute to the cause. There are even larger-scale efforts at play, including the development of proprietary wind or solar farms to power entire healthcare networks with clean, system-wide renewable energy.

While project teams and health systems have made noteworthy strides in the fight to “do no environmental harm,” this high-stakes battle has only just begun. We must remain steadfast in combining net-zero design strategies with the resolve to make an impactful difference. Working together, this approach will move healthcare and other industries closer to the bullseye of net-zero emissions.


Michelle manages and coordinates CPL’s digital content from social media, blogs and e-newsletters to the firm's website and intranet. She brings high energy, focus and advanced writing skills, which enable her to produce relevant content to inform, inspire and enhance CPL's brand awareness and value propositions.

More posts from Michelle Draghi