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Adopting Sustainable Practices in Your Assisted Living Facility

Doing So Might Improve Health as a Bonus


Adopting Sustainable Practices in Your Assisted Living Facility

Small steps towards sustainability can make an impact--both in the amount of resources your facility uses, to the overall well being and goodwill from the residents.

Steven Puetzer

There has been a lot of writing about the "greening of healthcare." Making decidedly sustainable choices can affect your wallet, but not all measures need be large-scale. Many repay you through energy and resource savings in the long run. Small steps towards sustainability make an impact--both in the amount of resources your facility uses, to the overall well being and goodwill from residents.

Can Indoor Environs Contribute to Poor Health for Seniors?

The air inside typically contains a higher concentration of pollutants than outdoor air--as much as two to five times more, and yet, people spend, on average, 90 percent of their time indoors--seniors even more so. In addition to air quality concerns are issues of lighting, acoustics and ventilation.

Lighting -- inadequate or low lighting can lead to eye strain and headaches. Too many windows, however, and your facility may experience glare problems and get too hot. Natural daylight reduces electricity costs and helps regulate natural circadian rhythms and stimulate the body's production of vitamin D.

Acoustics -- Materials that soak up or muffle sound cause communication issues between residents and staff. On the flip side, noisy tiles or locating private rooms too close to a noisy kitchen, ambulance entrance or loading dock can interfere with sleep.

Ventilation -- without enough fresh air circulating, odors and pollutants are allowed to linger. Short term effects are eye, nose and throat irritation. Over time, people with weakened immune systems are more prone to develop asthma, bronchitis, pneumonia, emphysema and even heart or lung disease.

New Environments Offer Opportunities to Improve Sustainability

New construction opens a world of sustainable building possibilities. "For new facilities, the goal is to evaluate not only upfront cost, but the full life cycle cost to make a sustainable decision," says Jane Rohde, AIA, FIIDA, ACHA, AAHID, LEED AP, founding principal of JSR Associates, Inc., a design firm focusing on senior living and healthcare consulting. Rohde says it's important to include three important components in your planning:

  1. meeting goals of sustainability
  2. finding an acceptable ROI
  3. doing so within realistic time frames

Sustainable "Retro-Fit" Solutions for Senior Living Facilities

You don't have to take the "go big or go home" stance with sustainable practices. "For existing facilities it makes the most sense to start with operations and see where affordable solutions can be completed that will save operational dollars," says Rohde.

She recommends an assessment of lamps and bulbs, implementing sensors for lighting and water usage, and evaluating all cleaning practices, chemical and water usage and microfiber cleaning products.

Rohde points to online assessment tools available for existing buildings at Green Building Initiative, including Green Globes® for Continual Improvement of Existing Buildings for Healthcare (CIEB-HC). An affordable and practical guide to advancing the environmental performance and sustainability of buildings, Green Globes is an alternative to LEED, the U.S. Green Building Council's certification program.

Organizing a "Green Team" at Your Facility

A facility "green team" may include someone on the board of directors, maintenance staff, cleaning staff, the physical plant engineer, food service, nursing staff and even a resident representative or two. To be successful, the team should be given clear goals and actions.

  1. Assess the facility, including air and water leaks, daily use products, building materials, lighting and acoustics, placement of dumpsters and path of delivery trucks. Determine areas of greatest need.
  2. Reach out to professionals such as sustainable building experts and manufacturers and vendors who offer low-toxicity cleaning products and environmentally friendly packaging. Use resources like the U.S. Green Building Council and the Senior Living Sustainability Guide, a free downloadable guide that covers all aspects of green design in senior living communities.
  3. Be clear and transparent. Share your findings and intentions with staff, residents and their families. Show a commitment towards making the environment as healthy, pleasant and sustainable as your organization can be.

Reap The Benefits of Sustainable Living

Donna Zunker, Administrator/Owner of GranCare Gardens in Green Bay, WI, worked with Community Living Solutions, a design firm in Appleton, WI, that specializes in sustainable business solutions for assisted living communities and skilled nursing facilities. "The two greatest features of our renovation were a courtyard garden surrounded by the facility and a gazebo area with windows that capture the afternoon sun," she says.

The courtyard setting and large windows effectively bring the outdoors inside, lifting the mood of their neighbors, and impacting energy costs. It shows that sustainable practices in assisted living facilities are not limited to brand new construction. "Every neighbor in our facility has commented on the beautiful flower and vegetable gardens. It's a source of joy," she says.

About the Author

Carrie Pauling writes for Assisted Living Today, and has been a freelance writer for more than ten years, covering about a variety of topics including healthcare, workplace environments, libraries and the writers whose books fill them up.

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