During an America’s Essential Hospitals Climate Mitigation and Resilience Interest Group session on July 27, representatives from association member The Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center, in Columbus, Ohio, showcased the system’s efforts in becoming a more sustainable operation, including energy conservation, construction of efficient buildings, and intentional partnerships.

Aparna Dial, MS, MBA, senior director of facilities management and sustainability, and Greg Maginn, sustainability analyst, shared the health system’s innovative efforts toward prioritizing sustainability as well as climate mitigation and resilience strategies in place.

Energy conservation is among OSU’s top sustainability priorities. With 100,000 people on the university’s Columbus campus and seven hospitals on or near the campus, energy is in high demand. From lighting to space and water heating and cooling to running equipment in the operating room, energy is being used everywhere. The university spends an estimated $115 million on utilities annually, and the medical center estimates an annual cost of $45 million. This equals more than $1 billion dollars across 10 years. By minimizing consumption, managing their own utility plants, and using low carbon sources, the hospital reduces costs that can be reallotted toward other system improvements.

Graphic illustrating OSU's sustainability efforts

Graphic courtesy of The OSU Wexner Medical Center.

Dial and Maginn also highlighted the construction of new, efficient buildings, which feature sustainably sourced materials, designs that maximize daylight, and strong recycling systems. They explained that constructing efficient buildings can become a major revenue source; for example, according to Energy Star and the United States Environmental Protection Agency, one dollar saved in utility costs turns into $20 in patient revenue. The efficiency of these new buildings is traced by smart meters that measure site energy use intensity in real time. Smart meters are electronic devices installed to track and store utility usage data hour by hour and can pinpoint where exactly the most energy is being used. Energy usage data is used to calculate energy used per square footage, or EUI, at a building and campus level. Facility personnel can use these meters to track performance against the EUI goals set for new buildings and identify reduction strategies. High-performance buildings offer greater longevity, which in turn further reduces health system expenditures.

External partnerships also play a key role in climate mitigation and resilience strategies. In 2017, The OSU and Ohio State Energy Partners entered into a comprehensive energy management partnership, launching an unprecedented energy efficiency program and establishing the university and the Wexner Medical Center as international sustainability leaders. Through this partnership, the health system has implemented 46 energy conservation projects, including LED conversion and installation of heat recovery chillers. Temperature and air flow setbacks implemented by the facilities department have contributed to decreasing energy use. Additional successes include a decrease in anesthetic gas emissions and increased waste diversion.

As part of the university’s support for renewable energy, the university in 2012 signed a 20-year power purchase agreement for 50 megawatts of wind energy capacity from the Blue Creek Wind Farm in Van Wert, Ohio. Carbon-neutral electricity is typically around 16 percent for the Columbus campus hospitals and 100 percent for offsite medical center facilities, resulting in 29 percent carbon-neutral electricity for all medical center sites. The College of Medicine integrates sustainability into the curriculum, and Dial hopes other Health Sciences colleges will adopt this approach.

For other hospital leaders interested in this work, Dial highlighted the importance of leadership investment and buy-in at all levels of hospital governance and urged leaders to view sustainability from a cost-saving perspective. Dial also recommended starting small by using resources already available and setting standards for new buildings and designs.

The system’s efforts already have proven successful. Sustainability projects, including carbon and energy reduction, zero waste, sustainable procurement, and green building, have saved the health system an estimated $13 million over four years. OSU’s carbon footprint decreased by 30 percent between 2015 and 2022, and the medical center’s recycling rate increased to 37 percent.

In the future, the system aims to serve locally sourced food, produce zero waste, ensure potable water consumption, and increase efficiency of the university’s vehicle fleet by 2025. By 2050, the university and medical center hope to achieve carbon neutrality.

Essential hospitals like The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center understand their role in reducing the adverse effects of climate change, especially on underserved communities, and implementing changes like these can make a huge difference both sustainably and financially. Being a champion for climate change is also being a champion for the community, which is why essential hospitals should continue to prioritize climate resilience strategies.

To learn more about climate initiatives at essential hospitals, or share a program of your own, visit EssentialCommunities.org. For more information about the Climate Mitigation and Resilience Interest Group, visit our website.