Wellness centers, health-care facilities, medical centers, clinics, hospitals and assisted-living complexes—facilities that treat the sick and aid the aging—are getting healthier themselves. Owners are on a quest to put their buildings on energy diets and provide better environments for patients, residents, visitors and staff.

“It is essential that we build green as part of our overall vision to heal humanity through science and compassion,” says Jill Ann Sullivan, vice president of strategic space planning and general services for Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford, Palo Alto, Calif., which will complete, next year, a 521,000-sq-ft expansion of its 300,000-sq-ft existing hospital. “Incorporating nature into the design also improves the healing process, which is why we have three and a half acres of gardens in the expansion,” as well as outdoor “overlooks” that give patients and staff easy access to fresh air and sunlight, Sullivan adds.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, as of last month, there were 1,006 health-care facilities the world over that are LEED-certified. Of these, 334  are certified LEED Gold and 35 are certified LEED Platinum.

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Some medical centers are starting to go for certification under the more rigorous Living Building Challenge sustainable building program. Of the 348 registered LBC projects, three are health-care projects, according to the International Living Future Institute. 

In the children’s-hospital expansion, graywater, rainwater, condensate water and reverse-osmosis water are collected, stored, reprocessed through an ultra­violet light system and then reused for irrigation. No potable water will be used outdoors, which is important in drought-prone California, says Sullivan.

Displacement ventilation, external shading and operable internal shading are also common in new facilities. The 284-bed San Francisco General Hospital, which opened in the spring, has an exterior shading system and roof garden that make it look as much like a hotel or an office building as a hospital.

Given the progress of the health-care sector in terms of mechanical system optimization, reduced water use and innovative ventilation systems, Sullivan sees no reason that early adopters can’t achieve net-zero annual energy and water use in hospitals within the next 10 years. In 20 years, net zero water and energy facilities may be in the majority, she hopes.

There is help coming. “In the near future, we will be deploying a new system that will allow us to generate 100% green power from the waste heat produced by hospitals, which includes everything from the boiler flue to the laundry to their sterilizing systems,” says Jakob Carnemark, CEO of Aligned Energy, which develops advanced energy and infrastructure platforms for buildings.