The health system’s goal is to be carbon neutral by 2027.
Since Cleveland Clinic’s Office for a Healthy Environment was established in 2007, it has reduced environmental impact, improved the quality of care, and has contained costs.
Energy use is one area where it has achieved all three goals—including significant financial savings. Over the past decade, Cleveland Clinic has saved $50 million through energy efficiency, according to Jon Utech, senior director.
Tackling HVAC Issues
The healthcare industry’s use of energy surpasses most within the commercial sector, second only to the food service industry. More than half of the energy used in hospitals powers heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems, which are essential to maintaining high-quality patient care, Utech says. For example, hospitals are required to replace the air in their operating rooms (ORs) every three minutes to ensure proper ventilation. But recently, leaders at Cleveland Clinic realized their HVAC systems were changing air more frequently without adding patient benefit. By adjusting ventilation to meet, rather than exceed, the guidelines, the health system reduced energy use and saved approximately $250,000 per year.
Cleveland Clinic also uses an energy-saving strategy called “OR setbacks” to curb the number of air exchanges when rooms are not occupied. Across Cleveland Clinic’s 215 ORs, this strategy has helped save $2 million a year.
Moving to LEDs
Lighting accounts for 16 percent of Cleveland Clinic’s energy use. To contain its energy costs, the organization has been replacing traditional light fixtures with light emitting diode (LED) fixtures, which are more energy-efficient and have become more affordable within the past few years, Utech says. “This is something that any healthcare organization should be doing now,” he says.
Cleveland Clinic’s first priority was replacing lights with the highest use: those in the garage and on the exterior that run at least 12 hours a day. In 2015, the health system installed LED light fixtures that harness ambient light during the day and use occupancy sensors to reduce energy use. Compared with the old fixtures that used up to 200 watts, the new LED fixtures use 45 watts—a 75 percent reduction when in use. Replacing more than 1,650 traditional fixtures with LED fixtures in all of the organization’s parking garages cost $950,000, which will be paid back in three years thanks to reduced kilowatt hours, Utech says. Meanwhile, maintenance staff can focus on other tasks besides changing LEDs, which last nearly three times as long as fluorescent lights.
Two years ago, Cleveland Clinic also completed an interior lighting retrofit, replacing 400,000 fluorescent tube lights with linear LEDs, saving 28 million kilowatt hours. Utech says the organization will achieve a payback after four years. The lights are also flicker-free, causing fewer headaches and less fatigue compared with traditional fluorescents.
For both retrofits, the clinic used local companies, creating a positive community benefit. In addition, Cleveland Clinic is making LEDs the standard for new construction projects.
Healthcare organization energy use also depends on thousands of staff who may not understand their role in energy conservation. To address this challenge, Cleveland Clinic developed a 15-minute online training tool in 2014. All staff are required to complete the training.
“The training tool outlines what employees can do in an operating room, in a patient room, and in an administrative space to reduce the utility budget and redirect funds to patient care,” Utech says. To date, more than 57,000 staff and contractors have completed the training.
To help build the momentum for change, the organization has launched healthy competitions between hospitals on reducing energy and other green initiatives. Such efforts may help keep staff focused on their jobs as well. A survey of 2,500 caregivers at Cleveland Clinic found a connection between engagement in sustainability efforts and engagement at work.
Warming Up to Solar
Cleveland Clinic currently receives 4 percent of its energy from renewable sources and has a goal to be carbon neutral by 2027. To help reach that target, leaders turned to a local company to launch a solar project, which currently generates 15 percent of the energy in a main campus buildings. Although the organization is not realizing savings from the solar initiative, Utech believes it is important to set an example of clean energy use in the community.
Leaders are exploring options to expand their use of solar energy, although Utech concedes there are limitations, particularly for urban-based campuses. “Health care is so energy intense that unless you have a massive field [for solar panels] next to your facility, you will probably need to do some offsite projects to move the needle in terms of renewable energy,” he says. That means buying more solar and even wind power from renewable sources on the grid for greener source energy mixes. Hospitals also can become offtakers of new and developing renewable energy projects.
Heeding Lessons Learned
Utech offers the following energy conservation suggestions for healthcare organizations of any size and scope.
Keep temperatures under control. Using setbacks to keep room temperatures in moderate ranges can help control costs. “Based on our calculations, every one-degree shift in temperature is worth about $300,000,” Utech says. Cleveland Clinic uses setbacks to keep the temperature two degrees lower than previous settings, a change mild enough that it does not compromise comfort. This saves $600,000 a year.
Employ software to manage computer energy use. The organization’s more than 51,000 computers can be a huge drain on the energy budget. However, the organization saves $400,000 a year by using software that puts 40,000 of their noncritical computers and monitors in sleep mode when not in use.
Turn lights off when not in use. Controls that turn off lights in unoccupied areas save Cleveland Clinic $400,000 a year.
Find the right collaborators. Cleveland Clinic works with more than 30 vendors to advance its green initiatives. It also hopes to engage suppliers in efficient energy strategies as it strives to become carbon neutral over the next decade. In addition, leaders aim to work with vendors to use materials that are healthier for patients and make products more recyclable to reduce waste, Utech says.
Emphasize patient and community benefits. “People in health care already have a service-oriented mentality because they want to take care of people,” Utech says. “If you can connect these efforts to the human and community impacts, it will help increase your success.”
For example, one of the health system’s recycling initiatives uses a local organization that employs individuals with disabilities. When caregivers realized how their efforts helped the community, they became advocates for the program. Through employees’ efforts, Cleveland Clinic has recycled nearly 200 tons of surgical plastics alone.
Elevating the Industry
Utech believes his organization’s work will make a difference as providers are increasingly tasked to manage the health of their communities.
“We’re building a collective knowledge base in health care about how to do things the right way, and that is an imperative for the whole sector to move forward so we have the best energy standards that are based in research and that allow us to deliver care,” he says.
Interviewed for this article:
Jon Utech, MBA, MSOD, is senior director, Office for a Healthy Environment, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland.