Mercy's ENERGY STAR hospital hunts down waste

April 15, 2011


ROGERS, Ark. — For any given month, George McFerron can report with precision how much energy it took to power Mercy Medical Center, and how much waste got flushed or trucked out. What is more, he knows which departments are throwing away the most trash.

As director of facility services, McFerron works to ensure the three-year-old replacement hospital functions as the high-efficiency machine it was designed to be. And while well-tuned boilers and chillers go a long way in controlling energy consumption, McFerron knows the cultivation of a green workplace requires a commitment from people to behavioral change — to routinely recycle, to take the stairs instead of the elevators and to turn off the lights and personal electronics when they leave their offices.

At Mercy, a "green team" drawn from a cross section of departments and disciplines works to raise the environmental consciousness and enthusiasms of hospital staff for an all-in effort. It does so through email-sized educational bites and wall-to-wall campaigns like the current one to count — and then reduce — the number of personal and departmental electric appliances including small refrigerators and coffee pots. It's a challenge to get people to give up a convenience like a strategically located toaster oven, but McFerron said the initiative is making inroads.

Green team members conduct "energy rounds," to ask department staff how they're doing on recycling, and whether they are turning off their appliances and lights.

Mercy's efforts to create a green culture are paying off in year-over-year reductions in utility and trash bills. The hospital shaved $184,000 in energy costs from 2009 to 2010, McFerron said. It reduced water usage by 300,000 gallons in the same period. Its trash haul is down too.

Mercy is in the top quartile in the nation for energy efficiency among similarly sized facilities and it is a two-time recipient of the prestigious ENERGY STAR label. ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy that recognizes outstanding environmental stewardship.

Based on extrapolations from government estimates, McFerron said the165-bed hospital is saving $400,000 more a year in energy, compared to a similar hospital not in the top quartile for energy efficiency. According to ENERGY STAR, "Every dollar a nonprofit health care organization saves on energy has the equivalent impact on the operating margin as (would) increasing revenues by $20."

Idea exchange
Next month, Mercy will host facility directors and others involved in promoting green practices from throughout the

Chesterfield, Mo.-based Sisters of Mercy Health System. One goal is to promote cross-system collaboration among those charged with environmental stewardship. From 75 to 100 Mercy managers and leaders are expected to attend the sustainability summit and vendor fair on the Rogers hospital campus.

McFerron expects the event to energize his hospital's green team, a group whose list of environmental wins includes building employee buy-in for the elimination of colored paper, disposable water bottles and Styrofoam cups from the campus.

The hospital campus, formerly a farm, is being developed with sustainability in mind. To reduce mowing and grounds maintenance, about 20 acres is planted in hay. Wildflowers are naturalizing along a walking path near a stream and bluff. Developers didn't get everything right out of the gate, though. For example, the irrigation system watering manicured lawns and plantings used to spout off rain or shine. The system has been retrofitted with rain sensors to keep it idle on wet days.

Mercy continues to fine-tune other systems too. It is upgrading to light-emitting diode architectural lighting. LED pulls less energy and lasts 10 years compared to a three-year life of the bulbs currently in use. It saves on manual effort, too, since maintenance crew members need a crane to reach and service the light source.

Mercy is working with General Electric to find more energy efficient lighting for its parking lot — LED proved too expensive in that application.

Peak efficiency
Light sensors inside the hospital dim overhead lights in areas lit by natural light and timed motion sensors turn the lights on and off in some common areas used by staff.

Likewise, zoned temperature controls shut off heat and air conditioning in unoccupied offices and other areas on nights and weekends. The lobby escalator goes still after visiting hours and people take an elevator or the stairs.

To moderate energy costs, the entire campus can be switched off the utility grid. During peak load periods when rates are highest, boilers and chillers get switched to fuel oil. The hospital's fuel oil-powered generators spin off enough energy to run 500 homes.

Hospitals are energy hogs even when they are functioning at optimal efficiency. Keeping the temperature and humidity in a tight bandwidth requires the year-round, near-simultaneous operation of boilers and chillers. For example, to wring the humidity out of the Arkansas summer air, the system heats air, then cools it to cause condensation.

Technicians monitor the energy management systems to make sure the systems are functioning as designed. McFerron said elimination of simultaneous heating and cooling is the most common energy savings opportunity. The hospital regularly checks the calibration on all dampers and fans, and it has extensive annual tune-ups on its chillers and boilers. Last year it switched to long-life, high-efficiency filters that reduce energy use in air blowing units.

The upkeep and updates maximize efficiency and reduce energy costs. McFerron said environmental stewardship is about more than saving money, though. "We are stewards of creation. God has blessed us. Practicing sustainability is a fundamental part of our goal to be partners with creation."

STRATEGIES: Encourage employees to go green

Mercy Medical Center's "green team" sends out periodic reminders to coworkers with suggestions for energy savings such as:

Walk up one floor and down two, it saves energy and burns calories

Use only white paper. Colored paper is more expensive to recycle

Do not automatically print e-mails

Turn off the light when leaving your office for more than five minutes

Throw batteries in a recycling bucket, not a trash can


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.