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Kaiser Permanente Sees Big Benefits to Adopting LEED for Buildings

Kaiser Permanente Sees Big Benefits to Adopting LEED for Buildings
Heidi Jones-Huffman (left) and Travis English (right)

Six years ago, Kaiser Permanente signaled that the Oakland, California-based health care system would seek Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Gold certification for new construction of hospitals, large medical offices, and other major projects.

Fast forward to today and they have five Platinum-certified buildings, 16 Gold-certified buildings, 13 Silver-certified building, and one certified building.

“We are achieving a high degree of success based on our current strategy,” says Heidi Jones-Huffman, a principal medical architect-planner who leads the sustainable architectural design component of Kaiser Permanente’s Facilities Design Program.

She and Travis English, director of engineering and chief design engineer for Kaiser Permanente’s Facilities Strategy Planning and Design group, work together on internal design standards. Recently we caught up with them to learn more about how certification fits into the health care system’s larger environmental goals.

Does Kaiser Permanente require LEED certification for all building projects?

Heidi Jones-Huffman: We do require LEED certification for certain projects across our owned and leased facilities. They need to meet specific requirements before they go for Gold. Those requirements are based on project budgets — and whether it’s a new footprint.

Travis English: If it’s a new space that’s occupied by Kaiser Permanente employees, that’s one of the triggers for our requirements.

Jones-Huffman: That would mean an administrative facility or a clinical facility, not a parking garage.

How do the requirements work?

English: We have a budget requirement that roughly determines the size of the project. And then the project type. Gold certification assumes an onsite renewable power source. Without that, Gold certification is difficult or even cost-prohibitive, so we factor that in.

Jones-Huffman: A lot of our projects that are not able to achieve onsite power generation achieve Silver.

What are the main advantages of LEED for Kaiser Permanente?

English: I happened to be here before and during the adoption of LEED. We used to have a tool called the Eco Toolkit based on the Green Guide for Health Care. It was essentially an in-house set of sustainability standards that we tried to require of the project teams. That was very difficult administratively.

The big benefit to adopting LEED is that most architects, engineers, and contractors have experience with the system. They know the reference standards and what’s required to achieve the points. This common vocabulary within the industry means we don’t have to do it ourselves.

Jones-Huffman: It gives us a third-party validation to ensure we’re achieving our targeted goals and expected performance parameters. And all of the LEED rating systems offer flexibility to tailor credits to site- and building-specific needs.

Could you share some examples?

Jones-Huffman: Our most common building type is the medical office building (MOB), and we have LEED accredited MOBs in all eight of our regions. San Diego Medical Center was the first hospital in California to be certified LEED Platinum. It’s designed to use 35% less energy annually than a traditional hospital and it has onsite solar power generation.

We also have a regional reference lab in Southern California that is newly Platinum-certified. The property was originally a big box store, and the location is easy for our employees to get to. It was redeveloped to improve water and energy efficiency — so much so that it captured all 11 water credits and all 37 energy credits available under its rating system.

What are the biggest challenges with LEED certification?

Jones-Huffman: For some projects, it’s a challenge to obtain all the credits required. In those cases, we discuss options and may decide to pursue a lower level of certification. We also have leased buildings where prerequisite building system improvements are not financially prudent for us as tenants.

How are you addressing these challenges?

Jones-Huffman: We encourage teams to review all the available innovation credits and regional priority credits because it will help them maximize the overall number of credits they achieve on a project. We have had good luck with innovation credits such as an ergonomic approach for computer users. Once a team establishes how they got that credit, we can share that with other project teams.

English: Heidi and I have a relationship with USGBC where we have access to all the Kaiser Permanente projects seeking certification, and all the documentation submitted for points. That’s a very useful library. We can share that from team to team: Here’s how the last folks went after this point.

What advice would you give to others who want to make their facilities more sustainable?

English: We really have overarching leadership support for environmental stewardship in general. That’s important because at our level we’re talking about project teams achieving LEED and that’s not easy.

Jones-Huffman: We’re fortunate to have a decision-making process and feedback loop in place. They are critical to our success.

English: Heidi and I often get involved in conversations around projects that are in the gray area: What should the LEED goal be for this project? What is the size of the project? But with most of our new construction projects, that conversation is simple. We go after LEED.

Jones-Huffman: The teams understand the expectations because the rating system normalizes what’s happening in design and construction. There aren’t a lot of questions about how to achieve it.

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