Preserving the Environment

Introducing the Country’s First Hospital System to Achieve Energy Independence

November 21, 2014
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Introducing the Country’s First Hospital System to Achieve Energy Independence
Gunderson´s green energy resources include solar thermal water heating systems and wind turbines. David McNew/Getty Images
The Gundersen Health System cares about healthy patients as well as a healthy planet.

With a revolving door of patients, high-tech equipment and extensive lighting and heating needs, hospitals and healthcare systems require a lot of energy to run — giving them a sizable environmental footprint. In fact, according to the Department of Energy, they have about 2.5 times the energy intensity and carbon dioxide emissions of commercial office buildings.

As global temperatures continue to rise, hospitals and health care systems need to prepare for a rapidly shifting climate. Just think back to Hurricane Sandy when hospitals needed patients to evacuate due to floods and power outages.

ThinkProgress reports that several hospitals, like in Maine and Massachusetts, are ramping up their efforts to combat climate change. But the Gundersen Health System — an extensive healthcare network comprised of clinics, hospitals, nursing homes and other services in 19 counties (Wisconsin, Iowa and Minnesota) and has more than 6,000 employees — has really stepped up to the plate.

Gunderson recently reached an environmental milestone: It now produces more energy than it consumes. If you check out the video below, the hospital system (headquartered in La Crosse, Wis.) relies on a whole slew of green energy sources — including a biomass boiler that burns wood chips from milling or forest residue, geothermal pumps that use the earth as a heating/cooling source, a solar thermal water heating system and wind turbines, as well as dairy digesters and generators to create energy from cow manure from farms.

MORE: This Amazing Home Creates More Energy Than It Uses

This eco-friendly behavior all started in back February 2008, after an energy audit discovered dozens of energy-saving opportunities. For example, by simply changing the lightbulbs, ballasts and other fixtures in six buildings, Gunderson saved $265,000 a year and energy use dropped 4.4 kilowatt hours annually — enough to power 440 homes. Simple things such as cutting use of 24/7 exhaust fans and implementing automatic shutoff times for the organization’s 8,500 computers also added up.

By the end of 2009, Gundersen says it was able to improve efficiency by 25 percent, resulting in more than $1 million in annual savings. Fast-forward to today: The hospital system’s energy efficiency has reportedly improved by 50 percent, which translates to $2 million in savings a year.

Gunderson has also distanced itself from gas, oil and coal and has frozen “all future investments in fossil fuels as part of an energy strategy that executives said will help ‘set the standard for environmental stewardship in healthcare,'” Modern Healthcare reports.

“We did not set out to be the greenest health system,” Gundersen CEO Jeff Thompson says in a statement. “We set out to make the air better for our patients to breathe, control our rising energy costs and help our local economy. We believe we have made more progress on all three than anyone else in the country.”

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