Feature Article

Hospital, Heal Thyself: Greening the Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities

Greening the Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities

While most green roofs in North America have been planted with European sedums or other nonnative plants, Conservation Design Forum is experimenting with native plants adapted to thin soils. Pictured is the green roof atop the Chicago City Hall, where the company has been testing the success rates of various species.

Photo: Conservation Design Forum, Inc.
What we do to our environment, we do to ourselves, the saying goes. Nowhere is this principle played out more dramatically than in our hospitals, where doctors and nurses work the front lines against environmental illness, treating patients for cancers caused by exposure to toxic materials, asthma triggered by breathing dirty air, and heat stroke brought on by heat waves made more severe by climate change.

Sadly, the connection between hospitals and illness does not end with treatment. Even as healthcare professionals go to heroic lengths healing the sick among us, the very buildings in which they work forestall and unravel their efforts. Burning fossil fuels to power healthcare facilities contributes to climate change, allowing disease vectors to invade new habitats. Relying on ozone-depleting refrigerants to cool them increases the potential for skin cancer. Using mercury-based instruments to measure body temperature and blood pressure contributes to air and water pollution, increasing rates of brain damage from mercury poisoning. Clearing rainforests to provide wood for furniture contributes to the extinction of species that might have yielded life-saving medications. Furnishing interiors with materials manufactured using carcinogens perpetuates the spread of cancer; such materials are common even in radiation and chemotherapy treatment rooms.

There is clearly room for improvement in the performance of our healthcare facilities. By considering the environmental and health implications of design and construction decisions, we can bring the performance of healthcare facilities more closely in line with the industry’s mission to restore and safeguard health. If we trust our doctors to “first, do no harm,” as the healthcare creed counsels, it seems only fair to expect the same of our hospitals.


Published June 1, 2005

Boehland, J. (2005, June 1). Hospital, Heal Thyself: Greening the Design and Construction of Healthcare Facilities. Retrieved from https://www.buildinggreen.com/feature/hospital-heal-thyself-greening-design-and-construction-healthcare-facilities