Environmental changes loom large over Boston. Every year, sea-level rise, violent storms and flooding imperil infrastructure and threaten the safety of thousands of people living at the very edge of the Atlantic. As city officials put plans in place to protect its population, Boston Medical Center is aligning its vision to drastically reduce its carbon footprint and preserve and improve the health of the community that surrounds it.
Hospitals are massively energy-intensive facilities. Powering inpatient floors, surgical rooms, heating and cooling units, and the plethora of machinery and support services that assist staff, patients and visitors around the clock is costly both financially and in environmental impact. Large hospitals and academic medical centers have a much more substantial carbon footprint than other commercial buildings, which are considered the fourth largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.*
When a BMC campus redesign project was proposed in 2012, improving the hospital’s energy efficiency and reducing greenhouse gas emissions was imperative to the plan.
“We’re in the business of caring for our community, and so it makes sense to start with our environment and work on reducing our carbon footprint to significantly change the amount of carbon that we’re emitting and the amount of pollution as a result of the use of that energy,” explains BMC Senior Vice President of Facilities and Support Services Bob Biggio.
BMC’s energy conservation efforts are drastically reducing the hospital’s energy consumption. The hospital’s multi-prong approach focuses on shrinking square footage through campus consolidation, investing in clean energy alternatives and pioneering green campus projects.
LEADING ENERGY INNOVATION
The tractor trailer-sized box on top of the Yawkey Building doesn’t look like much, but it houses the hospital’s most ambitious step toward energy efficiency. BMC’s new co-generation (co-gen) power plant is providing 43 percent of the hospital’s electrical needs and 30 percent of its heat since its installation in 2017. It is also contributing to the hospital’s bottom line, saving BMC $1.5 million in energy utilities each year.
The natural gas-powered reciprocating engine not only supplements the hospital’s energy supply but also uses its waste heat to provide heat to the hospital and its hot water supply. Where a conventional power plant operates at about 35 percent efficiency, a co-gen powerplant, with its ability to utilize waste heat, operates at 70 percent efficiency.
The rooftop power plant can operate off the grid, powering the hospital’s inpatient unit for months if necessary. With superstorms and flooding being a more present threat to urban environments, this capability allows the hospital to sustain its operations in the face of a natural disaster.
Beyond energy conservation efforts on campus, BMC is at the forefront of virtual power purchase agreements, a method of investing in clean energy projects in other parts of the nation to help offset the hospital’s carbon emissions in the Northeast.
BMC partnered with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Post Office Square Redevelopment Cooperation to invest in a 650-acre solar farm in North Carolina. The project takes the form of a 25-year power purchase agreement between the three Boston-area institutions and Virginia-based energy company Dominion. The 146 gigawatt-hours of emissions-free power generated by the solar farm each year will result in a reduction of 119,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions—the equivalent of removing 25,250 cars from the road.
In all, the hospital’s energy conservation efforts have reduced its greenhouse gas output by 93 percent while more than halving its annual utility expenditure from $17.2 million in 2011 to an estimated $8.5 million in 2019. Administrators expect that the hospital will meet its goal to be completely carbon neutral by 2020.
GREENING THE COMMUNITY
Perched above the corner of Mass. Ave. and Albany Street, BMC’s Rooftop Farm shines like an emerald among the drab cement rooftops of other South End buildings. The 2,658 square foot space on top of BMC’s power plant grows more than 5,000 pounds of vegetables and leafy greens each year. This produce is funneled directly into the community through cafeteria and inpatient meals and weekly distributions to families using the hospital’s Food Pantry. A weekly farmer’s market held in the Shapiro Building provides additional opportunities to the local community to bring home these vegetables. Beyond its nutritional benefits, the expanse of green helps to mitigate the heat island effect in BMC’s South End neighborhood.
“Typically, in urban populations, the temperature can be 22 degrees warmer in the environment, so the garden actually reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that are released. It also prolongs the life expectancy of the roof two to three times and can save 5 to 40 percent of energy just by having a green roof,” explains BMC Senior Director of Support Services David Maffeo.
The farm is perhaps the most visible example of the hospital’s green investment in the community. Still, there is a lot more going on behind the scenes. Over the past few years, the hospital has put into place radical systems to lighten its impact on landfills from closely tracking, reducing and composting the food waste in its kitchens to recycling old building debris during construction projects.
“BMC is emerging as a leader in conservation efforts in the health care sector, and we are eager to share our resources with other institutions so that they can implement similar strategies moving forward,” says Biggio.
SEEING FUTURE OPPORTUNITIES
BMC’s efforts over the past eight years have earned it the title of the greenest hospital in Boston. Even with so much accomplished, administrators continue to look for more ways to create sustain-ability on campus. The hospital most recently executed a new smart solar power purchase agreement in Massachusetts and is looking into opportunities to install solar panels on campus and electrify its vehicle fleet. BMC’s ultimate goal is to erase its environmental footprint while being the best possible steward to the community that it serves.
*Center for Climate and Energy Solutions: DeCarbonizing U.S. Buildings