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New York Hospital Queens Becomes King of Cutting Carbon Emissions

Healthcare Environmental Solutions: NYHQ uses an organic waste decomposition system to process food waste

Within just a few years of New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg challenging healthcare facilities to cut greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions by 30 percent within a decade, one hospital has become an “early achiever” and has already exceeded that goal.

New York Hospital Queens, (NYHQ), a 535-bed tertiary care facility and community teaching hospital in Flushing, reported it has cut its carbon footprint by 31 percent from 2005 levels through energy conservation, recycling, clean air, and waste management strategies and infrastructure projects.

In addition to the environmental benefits, the program is saving the hospital approximately $2.5 million a year.

“The Mayor's Carbon Challenge is a forward-thinking program that encouraged New York Hospital Queens to accelerate its sustainability efforts,” says Kevin Mannle, associate vice president for facilities management. “By reducing our environmental impact, we help our buildings and our planet get healthier, which supports the health and well-being of our patients and our community.”

“New York Hospital Queens recognizes the critical interdependence between human health and the health of the planet,” the hospital notes on its website. “Our hospital is working to reduce the environmental impact of our building's energy and water use and is committed to the continued development of greener healthful practices.”

Bloomberg in 2007 launched PlaNYC, an ambitious effort designed to strengthen New York’s economy, address climate change, prepare for an increase in population and enhance the quality of life for both residents and visitors. The plan includes improving housing and neighborhoods, parks, public spaces, brown fields, waterways, water supplies, transportation, energy, air quality and solid waste. One of the goals was to reduce citywide greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2030.

The Mayor’s Carbon Challenge was issued in 2007 to universities and two years later to healthcare facilities. It asked participants to match the city government’s goal of reducing its own greenhouse gas emissions at an accelerated pace of 30 percent in 10 years.

Eleven of the city’s largest hospital systems — representing more than 50 individual hospitals, dozens of clinics, outpatient centers, and medical offices — accepted the challenge, as did 17 universities. NYHQ, which has a main campus and more than 18 community medicine sites across the borough, is the only one of the 11 hospital systems to already have met the goal. Four universities have also achieved what Bloomberg calls “early achiever” status.

Sustainability efforts are also under way at Broadway theaters and major corporate offices. The program is expected to expand this summer to residential co-ops and condos and city officials are also looking at initiatives addressing solid waste and water.

NYHQ cut its carbon footprint through numerous efforts, ranging from a recycling program — including an organic waste decomposition system to process food waste — to installing a modular green roof on the hospital's main campus. A key project was the replacement of a natural gas-driven chiller with an electric chiller.

When it signed up for the program, NYHQ initially focused on energy conservation, Mannle recalls. The hospital formed a sustainability council, consisting of 20 people from various departments. The council’s first order of business was to install system controls to regulate heat and air conditioning in areas that were not being utilized at certain times of the day. If an area was unoccupied, there was no need to keep it cooled or heated.

Occupancy sensors were also installed to replace light switches. The sensors automatically turn lights on when a person enters a room, such as an office, conference area or break room, and shuts them off when no motion is detected after a set amount of time.

The hospital also installed photocells to control electric lighting in areas that receive large amounts of natural light. The photocells detect sunlight and can turn off the electric lights if there is sufficient natural light. The photocells are installed in hallways, waiting rooms, the main entrance and other areas.

NYHQ has installed more than 500 occupancy sensors and photocell devices.

Officials not only saw a reduction in electricity usage but realized carbon savings as well.

Air handlers and HVAC systems were areas where additional energy savings were realized. Areas of the workplace were identified that could be shut down during certain times of the day or night. Timers were installed to save energy in those areas.

The facilities management department also retro-commissioned a 30-year-old air handling unit. Retrofitting the unit to bring it up to current standards resulted in a 25 percent energy savings with the unit supplying more air.

One major project involved replacing a chiller.

NYHQ’s central chiller plant consisted of three 1,100-ton, gas-fired absorption chillers. To better study equipment performance and chilled water distribution issues, the engineering department commissioned a performance study of the entire plant through the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority (NYSERDA) FlexTech program. Under that program, 50 percent of the study’s cost was reimbursed.

When the need arose to replace a unit, the report was used as the basis of design for the replacement chiller. The replacement unit was a 1,200-ton electric centrifugal chiller. A slightly larger electric unit was chosen based on its higher efficiency and lower operating and maintenance costs, as well as the future flexibility of the central chiller plant. This unit was also smaller in size and fit into the existing footprint.

NYHQ once again applied for NYSERDA performance based incentives, this time through the existing facilities program. A 1,200-ton York YK Max E Chiller was selected. The unit qualified for the NYSERDA super efficient electric chiller bonus by exceeding standard energy efficiency criteria by at least 2 percent at full load and by at least 12 percent at part load. This resulted in a rebate to NYHQ of $87,000.

The high-efficiency chiller uses 17 percent less electricity than a standard performance unit, resulting in an annual energy savings of more than $33,000. The incremental cost for the higher-efficiency unit was $180,000, yielding an anticipated payback after 5.4 years. The payback was reduced to 2.8 years when the NYSERDA rebate was included.

Payback on the completed $1.9 million chiller project — after factoring in equipment, construction and architectural and engineering costs as well as the rebate and annual maintenance and energy savings — was expected to be in little more than seven years.

The new chiller, installed in less than five months, went on-line June 8, 2011. The switch from a natural gas chiller to an electric unit resulted in lower natural gas consumption and an increase in electricity consumption. After converting both fuels into carbon equivalents, however, officials reported a reduction in carbon emissions attributable to the chiller plant. The new chiller reduced the annual carbon emissions by 7 percent, or 1,655 metric tons, the equivalent to the annual gas emissions from 325 passenger vehicles.

The unit improves the overall production of chilled water and air conditioning throughout the campus. It has also improved the efficiency of the central chiller plant and reduced operating costs. Maintenance costs with the new equipment dropped $15,000 per year.

In addition to its energy projects, NYHQ instituted recycling and pharmaceutical waste programs and has installed a green roof on the hospital’s main campus in Flushing.

Installation of the modular green roof, an area covered with plant life, began in 2012 and today covers about one-half acre of roof space. The green roof is designed to decrease the amount of stormwater and sewer overflow into adjacent waterways.

“Stormwater runoff can carry sediment, trash, fertilizers, solvents, and automobile fluids from paved surfaces into the local waterways. The negative impacts of these elements entering our waterways are well documented,” the hospital says. “Additionally, in New York City the sewer system and the stormwater system are combined. During heavy storms, this system often reaches capacity and a mixture of stormwater and wastewater is discharged into local waterways.”

The green roof project was undertaken in partnership with Manhattan College, which received a grant of $660,440 from the New York City Department of Environmental Protection. Students will collect and analyze data to determine how much water is being captured.

The grant was one of five separate awards totaling $2.6 million for innovative methods of managing stormwater runoff.

“… The grant project will allow our faculty and students to not only assist in improving the city’s water stewardship, but design, install and monitor the entire process for four years,” says Tim J. Ward, dean of the Manhattan College school of engineering. Recycling was also a part of NYHQ‘s efforts.

Prior to 2010, the hospital recycled only cardboard and paper, according to Barry Johnson, director of environmental services.

Today, he reports it is recycling more than 17 percent of all waste through a single stream process, with all non-confidential papers, bottles, cans and glass going into green containers. All food waste goes into a bio-digester, an organic waste decomposition system that can process up to 400 pounds of food waste per day, about 4 percent of the hospital’s total waste stream. NYHQ diverts more than 200,000 pounds of food waste from the landfill annually, which reduces its number of municipal waste pickups.

More than 21 percent of hospital waste is diverted from traditional municipal waste streams, according to the hospital.

The savings from the recycling programs helped fund a pharmaceutical waste program, which prevents hazardous and non-hazardous drugs from entering the waste stream. The drugs are segregated (hazardous and non-hazardous) in containers in a satellite location and then taken to a central area where they are sent out for proper disposal.

NYHQ also has a “green” operating room.

By identifying what can and cannot be recycled, officials have been able to reduce both normal and infectious waste.

Prior to the recycling program, an operating room would generate 1.75 red bags of infectious waste and four large trash bags of regular waste for each case.

After a waste audit, officials found the hospital was red bagging items that did not meet the criteria for infectious waste. They identified items such as blue wrap, all packaging and all of the paper that could go into green recycling bags.

These days, infectious waste is down to one-eighth of a bag per case. The OR now removes two bags of recycling and one bag of trash per case.

“We now deliberately throw all recyclable items in the green bags, using only the red and white bags for the appropriate garbage,” a hospital spokesperson says.

Reducing its carbon footprint is benefiting both the environment and NYHQ, officials say. The hospital is a member of the New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System and an affiliate of the Weill Medical College of Cornell University.

“The Mayor’s Carbon Challenge has helped us cut our emissions, reduce our energy use and save money in the process,” Mannle says.
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