Hospitals’ Future Fight: Water?!

Posted on May 18, 2012


When companies like General Electric create entire divisions centered around a market, it likely means there is an economic opportunity. We know GE Healthcare.  How many are familiar with GE Water?

Energy and natural resources are a big deal, and only getting bigger. Both have received more attention in light of sustainability measures, especially in healthcare design and construction. In the past five years, national shortages of electricity have led to brown-outs. More businesses and homes are looking for ways to be less grid-dependent, and store or even sell back excess energy. Alternatives to electricity like biomass, solar, and fuel cells are being tested more earnestly for return-on-investment (ROI). The one fact everyone agrees about electricity:  it is expected to get more expensive, maybe prohibitively so for some consumers, in the not-so-distant future.

Developing smart approaches to energy use, conservation and acquisition are a current concern of hospitals, or will be soon. But how many hospitals are thinking about water as diligently?

Water is a precious resource.  A couple years ago during a major drought, Atlanta had significant disputes about its reservoirs, the ability to drill for new wells, who deserves water, and for what reason. About that same time, Jacksonville and Orlando had a tiff over the right to further tap the St. John’s River if it meant drastically negative outcomes for the environment and residents of Jacksonville further downstream. Some of the areas I have been to in the past year where water was an issue:  North Carolina, Austin, Phoenix.  The western states have been fighting over water since before the Rat Pack owned the casino lounges of Las Vegas. And many parts of the world rely on desalination simply to provide potable water.

As large consumers of lots of things, including water, hospitals have significant appetites; some are not too dissimilar to small cities. Thus, aquifers, reservoirs, and fresh water access should be a major concern for certain geographies, and their hospitals.  Water supply infrastructure, sewage treatment, and the behavior of public utilities should be equally important.

If a hospital performs a water audit, it will recognize the need to measure and manage water to perform essential hospital functions in HVAC systems, toilets and sanitation, clinical spaces and to a lesser extent, irrigation.

Sources of untreated ‘used’ water, some internal to a hospital, can help alleviate traditional external water demand:

  • Rain water
  • Storm water
  • Grey water
  • Process water

As water supplies are depleted and access becomes more challenging, hospitals will need to consider reclaimed water as a supplement to its overall needs, much like alternative energy sources supplement grid-supplied power and help mitigate energy costs and financial risk. Coupled with reduced demand from more thoughtful use and hospital user education, alternatives to traditional utility supplies will better help hospitals position themselves for a water fight they can win.