As research continues to improve our understanding of human wellness, more building professionals are embracing the use of design elements to create sustainable medical structures and enhance the well-being of both patients and staff.

LEED for Healthcare—the latest green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)—is specifically tailored to address the challenges associated with creating healthy and eco-friendly environments.

Sustainability and patient outcomes

LEED for Healthcare isn’t a complete overhaul of its New Construction guidelines, but it does approach this specific building type by embracing the idea of evidence-based design—making decisions about the built environment based on credible research in order to achieve the best possible outcomes. As it applies to medical facilities, a growing body of evidence suggests that the health of the patient and sustainability are linked.

According to recent Georgia Institute of Technology and Center for Health Design studies, when people are treated and given the chance to heal in green surroundings—with access to daylight and views of nature—they heal faster, have shorter hospital stays, and make fewer return visits.

The new guidelines are designed to encourage the creation of such spaces and provide the framework and resources necessary to help facilitate the process.

When developing the new certification system, the USGBC considered various healthcare-related issues. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, hospitals—which operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—use twice as much energy as typical buildings and spend nearly $8.8 billion on generated power each year.

Recent research published in JAMA, the Journal of the American Medical Association suggests that the healthcare industry is responsible for 8% of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and is second only to the food sector in the waste it generates. The new standards are designed to help hospitals and other medical facilities reduce their energy and waste costs, while creating rejuvenating spaces where people can heal.

For designers and builders, achieving green standards in healthcare becomes easier when considering these industry-specific nuances and using the new LEED guidelines as a blueprint for creating sustainable environments.

Tailoring LEED credits to medical building needs

Medical buildings often have strict regulatory requirements and energy demands that make pursuing green certification difficult. The LEED program acknowledges these differences by modifying New Construction credits and creating additional ones.

For example, hospitals are consistently one of the largest municipal water and sewer customers and are filled with complicated life-saving technology that demands reliable sources of medical gases, water, and power.

With this in mind, Water Use Reduction credits have been split into three separate categories—Building Equipment, Cooling Towers, and Food Waste Systems—and a new credit offers two points for Measurement and Verification.

Most of the Indoor Environmental Quality credits have been modified to control infection, protect patients from contaminants, and meet the rigid code regulations for ventilation.

Other credits that focus on the health of the patient include:

Sustainable Sites Credit 9.1, Connection to the Natural World–Places of Respite—Provide outdoor places to connect patients, staff, and visitors to the health benefits of the natural environment.

Sustainable Sites Credit 9.2, Connection to the Natural World–Direct Exterior Access for Patients—Give patients and staff a direct route to a terrace, garden balcony, or exterior courtyard.

Indoor Environmental Quality Credit 2, Acoustic Environment—Create a healing environment free of intrusive or disruptive levels of sound.

Scoring for Daylight and Views has increased, with two points being awarded for daylighting strategies and three points for views.

Both the Materials and Resources and Indoor Environmental Quality sections include several extra prerequisites that focus on creating non-harmful environments (e.g., banning mercury and requiring the removal of hazardous materials).

Future of sustainable design in healthcare

Following the lead of numerous research efforts, the healthcare industry has embraced sustainability, viewing it as an integral link between the health of its buildings and patients, staff, and the larger community.

As designers, we are responsible for meeting client needs and safeguarding the health, safety, and welfare of the public.

By recognizing the explicit health consequences associated with healthcare facility design and construction, the USGBC has provided us with a customized product; now it’s our responsibility to use these guidelines to implement sustainable solutions that will ultimately benefit everyone.

Steven M. Langston, AIA, ACHA, ACHE, EDAC, LEED BD+C, is director of design for RLF, an architectural design firm located in Winter Park, Florida. He can be contacted at