Partners HealthCare has a plan for using less energy to improve the lives of our patients, staff and the environment

In 2009, Partners HealthCare embarked on a plan to reduce energy consumption by 25% by 2015. Coming off of 2008, Partners had spent an unbudgeted $20 million on fluctuating energy costs. In addition, Partners leaders agreed that the organization needs to be a part of the solution in regard to sustainability and take seriously the effect that pollution can have on the very patients that its hospitals treat each year.

“For me it comes out of the “do no harm” oath, we need to be a lot more conscious of how we support the health care endeavor and do it as responsibly and economically feasible as possible,” says John Messervy, director of capital and facility planning at Partners. “We’re finding ways and also a lot of other people at Partners who are willing to contribute their energy and experience to making that happen.”

As a part of this commitment, Partners conceived of a 10-year strategic energy master plan to set goals and targets. The three areas of focus across the ten year period include:

  1. Reducing energy consumption by 25% in five years
  2. Converting energy production onsite through the development of co-generation facilities (combined heat and power)
  3. Moving toward renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar power to reduce dependence on carbon-based fuel.

“Today, systemwide, we are already at about 17-18% less energy consumption than 2008,” says Teerachai Srisirikul, director of utilities and engineering for Partners Real Estate. By 2015, all of the Partners hospitals will have hit the 25% target.

“We use as much power as the 100,000 residents of the city of Cambridge,” says Messervy. “Fifty-two percent of that power is generated using fossil fuels. So, we have a large environmental footprint and we are looking more closely at what we can do to reduce it, and what we can do to be more responsible than we already are in reducing our impact on the environment and contributing to chronic disease.”

This plan has been put in place and is currently underway at all Partners-owned hospitals and buildings across the system.  The first phase of the plan focuses on reducing energy consumption. Saving this much energy, however, is only possible by undertaking hundreds of projects, ranging from large, systemwide efforts, to smaller projects implemented on a floor, office, or hospital level. 

Here are a few examples:

  • SavePower!
    Computers in non-patient areas are automatically enrolled in the “SavePower!” program, which switches computers and monitors to standby mode during typical off hours, between 7 pm and 5:30 am after 30 minutes of inactivity. Computers can be awoken with the touch of a mouse or the strike of a keyboard.  As of February 2012, 27,288 computers across the system were enrolled in the program, saving 9,447,005 Kilowatts of energy. This is equal to removing 1,167 cars from our roads and it is saving the organization approximately $1.0 million per year.
  • Retro commissioning: A tune up for our buildings
    Much like a car needs a periodic tune-up, buildings also need to be tuned-up every 5 years to make sure they are operating as efficiently as possible. Retro commissioning, or re-commissioning, helps refresh a buildings.

“It’s going into buildings and making sure that major pieces of heating, air conditioning and ventilation equipment are working today as they were originally designed to work when the building was first designed and built,” says Messervy. Heating and cooling air takes a lot of energy, so in addition to fine tuning building systems, it’s also important that hospital buildings take advantage of changing building codes that allow for a reduction in quantities of heated and cooled air needed, he says.

  • Energy Alarms
    Partners hospitals utilize energy alarms to monitor how various energy-related systems are operating. This is especially useful once a building goes through the re-commissioning process. Now, engineers at Partners hospitals proactively look for problem areas and address issues quickly to stay as energy efficient as possible. For example, Massachusetts General Hospital uses energy alarms to monitor air flow into and out of specific vents. Although it may not sound very important, one air flow monitor can save more than $2,000 each year—and there are hundreds of monitors in place in one hospital.

“There is a normal range of operation, and when something goes outside of this range, an alarm will alert the engineering staff,” says Srisirikul. “This works well for maintenance staff as well because instead of the engineering staff having to ask about the alarm, the maintenance staff is proactively paying attention to it.”

After reducing energy consumption across the system, Partners hospitals will focus on two other methods for improving energy efficiency: through on-site co-generation and purchasing energy from renewable sources.

  • Co-generation, or combined heat and power, means that instead of purchasing energy from a third party, a hospital would generate its own power, and the byproduct of that—heat—would also be captured for use at the hospital.

“The utility company sends the power to you but dumps the heat used during the generation of that power, which is very inefficient” says Srisirikul.  If we generate power on site at a hospital, we’ll be using both power and heat, and it’s much cheaper than what we would pay the utility company.”

The new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital Boston is being built with a co-generation facility on site, and North Shore Medical Center is in the process of building a new co-generation plant. Both will generate as much as 40% of their facility’s electricity needs, as well as capture heat for steam and hot water. In addition, other co-generation projects are currently underway at both Massachusetts General and Brigham and Women’s hospitals.

  • Purchasing energy from renewable sources will allow Partners to reduce its environmental footprint and realize savings through currently available incentives. Including hydro-electric power, 25% of the power Partners currently purchases is from renewable sources. We also expect to soon be counting solar power as a major energy source, accounting for as much as 10% of the power we use.

Energy is just one of the areas that Partners is focusing on to reduce its impact on the environment.  More efficient purchasing of supplies, better models for waste management and recycling, reducing the use of chemicals that are proximal to patients and staff, purchasing “green” medical supplies, composting —these are all ways that Partners and its hospitals are making the organization more sustainable.

In addition, Partners is a leader locally and nationally for its efforts in sustainability. Gary Gottlieb, President and CEO of Partners HealthCare, is the co-chair of the Healthcare Sector group of Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission that brings together industry leaders to implement Boston's Climate Action Plan. Partners is also a founding member of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a coalition of major health systems across the U.S. that have come together to improve sustainability and safety in health care, and Messervy is the chair of that group.

“Best I can tell, Partners is pretty unique across the country in having an energy master plan and a ten-year timeline to implement the various aspects,” says Messervy. “I’ve been asked to present nationally about this over the last few years and I continue to be surprised by the number of people from our peer hospitals who come up after to tell me how impressed they are by it.” 

Learn more about sustainability at Partners.


In the News

Partners HealthCare's John Messervy, a member of Health Care Without Harm's Health Care Climate Council, recently joined with executives from across the country by calling for an increased commitment from the health sector to take the significant and measurable actions around climate change.

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Partners HealthCare was profiled as part of a November 2014 Modern Healthcare article on sustainability in health care.

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All Partners HealthCare hospitals have won Practice Greenhealth Environmental Excellence Awards for 2014. Practice Greenhealth is the nation’s leading health care membership community that empowers its members to increase their efficiencies and environmental stewardship while improving safety and care.

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Energy Star Recognition

Partners HealthCare has been recognized as a participant in Energy Star's 2012 Low Carbon IT Campaign. Energy Star is a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency program that supports businesses and individuals protect the environment through superior energy efficiency. In addition, the Electronic Product Environmental Assessment Tool (EPEAT) is a method for evaluating the effect of a product on the environment. It assesses lifecycle environmental standards and ranks products as gold, silver or bronze based on a set of environmental performance criteria. The Partners IS team has installed energy management software on 30,000 computers through fiscal year 2012 and 99 % of Partners desktop equipment is certified EPEAT Gold.


Energy Star recognition


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Advancing Health Care: Sustainable Initiatives

Partners HealthCare has made a commitment to several systemwide sustainable initiatives to decrease our footprint on the environment. Learn more from John Messervy, Director of Capital and Facility Planning for Partners HealthCare.

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