Climate change is a fact and we see its consequences everyday through heat and cold waves, droughts, an increase in the frequency and intensity of rains, rising sea levels, loss of biodiversity, among others, which directly impact the health of the population and particularly the most vulnerable.
The building sector not only contributes to aggravating this phenomenon but is also affected by it. Buildings and the construction sector were responsible for 36% of final energy consumption and 39% of CO2 emissions in 2018. Building infrastructure projects, and especially those in the health sector, present a great opportunity to use resources such as energy and water more efficiently while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
The health sector could be an impressive source of sustainable infrastructure
LAC countries have more than 1,100,000 beds, which are equivalent to more than 80 million meters built and rising. For this reason, from a long-term perspective, we have an opportunity to implement cheaper and less carbon-intensive technology and infrastructure.
The World Bank notes in its report “Climate-Smart Healthcare” that hospital infrastructure offers an opportunity to design, build, manage and invest in health systems and facilities that generate minimal levels of greenhouse gases (GHG). In this sense, climate-smart health systems would be aligned both with regional development goals and with global climate change objectives.
Faced with the enormous challenge posed by climate change, health systems are called upon to act on different fronts including: a) early warning and communication systems for the population; b) monitoring the physical and mental health status of the population; and c) adequate infrastructure to provide health services. It is precisely on this last point that the technical note “Green buildings for the health sector: Identification of cost-effective measures for sustainable design” is dedicated.
In this technical note, the EDGE tool (Excellence in design for greater efficiencies) of the International Finance Corporation was used to identify the most cost-effective measures that allow generating savings in energy and water consumption in infrastructure projects in the health sector.
The conclusions are based on the simulation of 96 hypothetical cases in which hospital typologies, cities and packages of measures are mixed to reduce energy use and water consumption. For new healthcare buildings, savings could be achieved that would allow the healthcare infrastructure to be EDGE-certified at an incremental cost that does not exceed USD20/m2. For existing hospitals, the average cost would be USD49/m2. The return on investment depends on the type and the city but ranges from less than one year to six years.
Key elements to guide the design of hospitals
In addition to cost savings, the technical note “Green buildings for the health sector” allowed the identification of other key elements that can guide the design of this type of building. For example:
- The study identified which features in buildings consume more energy and water according to their typology, to be able to define areas for greater efficiency. Two groups of buildings could be defined: those with hospitalization or permanent occupation, and those without. The former generally requires a kitchen and laundry, so it is convenient to seek savings in these areas.
- While energy consumption is directly related to the complexity of the building, water consumption is related to the surface area or number of bathrooms that exist. A specialty hospital, even though small, can consume more energy than a general hospital.
- Some measures and materials are efficient in any type of climate, such as LED lighting or saving taps, and others may be cost-effective depending on the type of climate or the orientation of the building.
There are cases of green hospitals in the region. For example, in Costa Rica, the Costa Rican Social Security Fund – CCSS is leading the construction of green hospitals in the country. The EBAIS headquarters in Escobal de Belén, which provides basic health care services, incorporated occupancy sensors, rainwater collection systems and natural ventilation. In addition, a photovoltaic solar system will provide 25% of the total energy demanded. These characteristics represent savings of 584,052 colones per month (US$ 1,034/month).
In summary, green construction not only contributes to mitigating climate change, but also contributes to the financial sustainability of the health system by allowing resources to be redirected to other health programs for community care. Building green hospitals pays off!
Edificios verdes para el sector salud: Identificación de medidas costo-efectivas para un diseño sostenible (currently only available in English)
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