The sustainability program at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center (DHMC) in Lebanon, NH goes back to 1996, when the staff started taking a hard look at waste management. Waste is a particularly difficult problem for medical facilities, because a lot is produced, and it is very important that disposing of waste does not spread diseases. For environmental reasons, the decision was made at that time not to incinerate waste, which produces air pollution, but to sterilize it in an autoclave, despite the fact that it is more expensive.
Encouraged that things could be improved, people at DHMC identified ways to reduce environmental footprints. They looked at electric power, heat, waste, transportation, food, land use, and more. The hospital went from using number six fuel oil to natural gas, switched to more environmentally-friendly cleaning products, and increased the use of fresh, local, organic food. DHMC started getting recognition from organizations like Practice Greenhealth. It received LEED silver certification.
In 2015, the board of trustees adopted a set of sustainability goals for 2020. Some of these were intentionally demanding, but worthy, “stretch goals.” Zac Conaway, DHMC’s Manager of Waste, Recycling and Training, and Chair of DHMC’s Environmental Sustainability Council, said, “A lot of that looked at GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions.” But even “purchasing medical furnishings to be environmentally sustainable” was on the long list of things under scrutiny.
Among the goals was installation of solar photovoltaics. Work on this came quickly when Norwich Solar installed a 134-kilowatt solar array, offsetting a 10% share of DHMC’s electric use.
DHMC has not stopped pushing to improve its efficiency and its environment. Installation of setbacks for HVAC in operating rooms and offices saved about $75,000 per year. The medical center has been turning to heat pumps and is looking to end the use of fossil fuels. The Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care has new geothermal heat pumps, which heat both for the building and hot water. Propane is still in use, but only for backup. Conaway explained, “All new construction buildings are to have heating that comes from sources other than fossil fuels.”