Pursuing LEED is the best investment you can make in building new, says Breeze Glazer, associate, research knowledge manager, Perkins+Will (New York), and Gail Vittori, co-director, Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems (Austin, Texas). Why?

For one, it provides a level of due diligence and 3rd party verification that comes with going through the certification process. There's also the potential for financial benefit. “On a very basic level, when you have a building that’s performing much better in terms of energy and water use, while those savings are a relatively small percentage of the overall operational costs of the building, any dollars saved is going to have a significant magnified financial gain opportunity,” Vittori says.

Those savings, she says, can be invested into other operations, better patient care, and materials that would be beneficial to patient and staff.

In 2012, Glazer, Vittori, and Robin Guenther, principal, Perkins+Will, joined together to update the 2008 study “Demystifying First Cost Green Building Premiums in Healthcare.” Their research included hospital projects, all of which were completed between 2010 and 2012, and were LEED certified for New Construction (LEED NC) by the U.S. Green Building Council.

The study sought to quantify one aspect of the building value proposition—cost premiums—and found that the cost difference between green and standard hospital construction today is minimal.

But the authors say there’s another benefit to green buildings that needs better support and research: staff retention.

“We’re in the early frontier days of understanding the impact of these buildings on occupants, patients, staff, and visitors,” Glazer says. “What happens when you build with only low VOC materials and switch to a green housekeeping program? Over the next few years, I hope there will be a plethora of research that empirically shows how buildings are impacting our health.”

Respondents to the study noted that measuring impacts on staff was important, with measurements on retention rates, absenteeism, and increased staff satisfaction reported. Almost 50 percent of the hospitals are also evaluating patient-related impacts, including changes to average length of stay attributable to their sustainable buildings.

Vittori says Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, which became the world's first LEED platinum certified hospital in 2008 and recently earned the first-ever LEED for Healthcare platinum designation for its W.H. and Elaine McCarty South Tower, reported a staff turnover rate of 2.4 percent in the first year compared to the national average of 10-15 percent. 

“Wouldn’t you want to be in a place that makes you feel better?” Vittori says. “There’s just some stuff that’s so basic. We kind of get lost in the numbers of it, but think about it.”

It’s certainly something to think about as the relationship of the built environment on improved patient health outcomes and staff well-being and performance continues to garner attention.

The team will present its findings during the Healthcare Design Conference (Nov. 16-19, Orlando) in the session “LEED Certified Hospitals: Perspectives on Capital Cost Premiums and Operational Benefits.” For more information, visit healthcaredesignmagazine.com/conference.