Gundersen Lutheran Health System has gone “hospital green”– with renewable energy, sustainable design, and recycling and waste management programs that are providing environmental leadership to the healthcare industry. The LaCrosse, Wisconsin-based medical network intends to become 100 percent energy independent by 2014 – and this week has begun operations at a wind “farm” that will bring it 7 percent closer to its goal.
Gundersen recently built the two-turbine wind farm just north of Lewiston, Minnesota. The wind farm is generating 4.95 megawatts (MW) of energy – enough to power about 1,400 homes. The electricity generated by the turbines is fed into the grid, for use by homes and businesses; and Gunderson is paid for the power.
The income that Gundersen realizes from renewable energy projects and energy conservation can be passed on to patients in the form of lower healthcare costs.
Through its Envision environmental sustainability initiative, Gundersen is developing its own energy infrastructure – using equipment owned by the health system, instead of purchasing renewable power at premium rates “It’s a win-win all around,” comments Jeff Rich, executive director, GL Envision, LLC. “Creating renewable energy through projects … ties directly to Gundersen’s mission of improving the health of the communities we serve,”
The Lewiston wind farm is one of two wind projects with which Gundersen is involved. The healthcare system also is collaborating with Organic Valley – the nation’s largest cooperative of organic farmers and a leading organic brand – on a two-turbine project in Cashton, Wisconsin. That project is expected to start operations by summer 2012.
“When we decided to control our energy utilization, we wanted to use what was available to us. From biogas to biomass and now wind, we are capitalizing on our surroundings to the fullest,” Rich adds.
To reach its goal of 100 percent independence, the healthcare provider must produce 220 million cubic feet of natural gas and 45 million kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity. Its portfolio of projects will piggyback on available renewable power opportunities through partnerships with municipalities, utility companies, and businesses.
Gundersen's energy plan includes a project that uses waste biogas discharged from the La Crosse City Brewery and turns it into electricity. The project, which was powered up in 2009, is generating 2 million kWh per year, which represents 2 percent of Gundersen's energy independence goal. That’s equivalent to planting approximately 300 acres of forest or removing 275 cars from the road – and is enough electricity to power nearly 170 homes.
In addition, the healthcare system is teaming up with La Crosse County on a project that will use waste biogas created from the garbage at the landfill and turn it into electricity and heat. The gas will be piped to an engine installed on the Gundersen Lutheran – Onalaska Campus. The gas will turn a generator, to produce clean electricity that will be sent to the power grid.
The engine also will create heat, which will be used to heat buildings and water on the campus. The project represents about 11 percent of Gundersen's total energy independence goal. It will produce as much energy as the Onalaska Campus consumes, making the multiple-building healthcare campus 100 percent energy independent.
What’s more, at Gundersen, recycling is a philosophy that goes beyond paper, plastics and aluminum. Gundersen achieved an impressive 37 percent recycling rate of the solid waste stream in 2011; saving the organization approximately $81,000. Practice Greenhealth uses 25 percent as a baseline for inclusion in the elite Environmental Leadership Circle, which Gundersen has accomplished five years in a row. To achieve this rate, the health system has:
- Recycled/reused more than 600 tons of materials;
- Recycled more than 458 tons of paper and cardboard, enough to replenish more than 5,000 trees, in just one year;
- Donated 12 tons of medical supplies and equipment to charitable organizations for use in our community and beyond; and
- Donated just over 1,000 meals a month that otherwise would have become part of the waste stream to charitable organizations in the community
Healthcare systems nationwide are looking for innovative ways to save on energy costs. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, the nation’s 8,000 hospitals are among the most energy-intensive commercial buildings – with more than 2.5 times the energy intensity and carbon dioxide emissions of commercial office buildings. With U.S. hospitals spending more than $5 billion on energy costs annually, finding solutions to rising energy costs has become critically important. Gundersen is proving that there are sustainable approaches to energy utilization that go hand-in-hand with solid financial business decisions.
Edited by Jennifer Russell