UCSF Sustainability Stories

The New UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay: Leading UC in Sustainability in a Hospital Setting

UCSF medical center Mission Bay

UCSF’s new medical center at Mission Bay is taking the lead on green building.

“UCSF’s new medical complex at Mission Bay is taking the lead on green building. The new hospital complex is such a great opportunity for us to think about the environment both on impact and the setting for patients and their families,” said UCSF Chancellor Sue Desmond-Hellmann, MD, MPH, at a recent interview.

The new UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay, slated to open in 2014, will be a world-class children’s, women’s specialty and cancer hospital complex. In addition to offering patient- and family-centered health care and translational medicine, the facility integrates leading-edge sustainable and eco-effective design and incorporates discoveries from evidence-based design, a body of knowledge that demonstrates a built environment can positively affect healing, health, safety and well-being.

“One of the basic design principles for the whole facility has been to create a healing environment by connecting views to the outside, providing access to nature and increasing natural light. We wanted a healthful environment, too,” explained Cindy Lima, executive director of UCSF Medical Center’s Mission Bay Hospitals Project.

“As a preeminent health care institution, it is our responsibility to do everything we can to cost-effectively provide a healthful environment for the patients we treat, for our own staff and faculty and for visitors. Sustainability is a natural fit, consistent with the medical center’s mission of caring, healing, teaching, discovering, as well as UCSF’s mission of advancing health worldwide ™,” said Lima.

Pushing Boundaries on Sustainability

Greening the design and operation of a hospital is not a simple matter.  To date, only about 15 hospitals worldwide have achieved LEED (Leadership in Engineering and Environmental Design) ratings. The facility is expected to be among the first hospitals in California to attain LEED Gold. It will be one of the largest LEED-certified hospital complexes in the world, made of 30 percent recycled materials.

As one of the nation’s leading medical schools and academic health research institutions, UCSF saw the new medical center as an opportunity to do sustainability with a capital “S”. It brought together an innovative design team, combining the skills of Anshen + Allen, a leading health care architect, with William McDonough + Partners, a well-known sustainability and eco-effective design firm, and MBDC, a green chemistry firm known for its Cradle 2 Cradle (C2C) certification, a process that looks at the full life cycle of a product from raw materials to use to end-of-life.

“Many of the things we are doing, such as toxic screening, LEED doesn’t touch upon yet. We are pushing the boundaries. The actual design of the facility goes beyond LEED standards in many ways,” explained Tyler Krehlik, associate principal with Anshen + Allen.

Choosing Healthy Materials

mock roomThe screening process for toxins took into account a variety of criteria, including cost, aesthetics, comfort level, flame resistance and maintenance issues. Then, on top of these, the design team looked at ecological and human health elements such as known allergens or carcinogens. It was a big challenge balancing all these factors and finding acceptable materials for flooring, walls, paint, ceilings and trim.

The last thing a patient who is being treated for cancer at a hospital wants is to be exposed to known carcinogens. With the opportunity to start from scratch, one of the first things the design team did was screen more than 100 patient and exam room finishes to reduce toxins. Using publicly available information, the team screened products for carcinogenicity, endocrine disruption, mutagenicity and teratogenicity (linked to birth defects), and reproductive toxicity.

According to Krehlik, this type of assessment, based on specialized research that focuses on the chemical toxicity of certain materials, has never before been done in a hospital or in any project of this scale.  The team quickly discovered that finding acceptable materials was difficult because many companies were not comfortable making public a detailed list of ingredients in their materials.  It also learned that for some materials, a greener alternative is not yet available. However, by asking the right questions, UCSF is pushing manufacturers to begin thinking about new, greener products.

Addressing Other Environmental Attributes

In addition to the toxic screening, UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay will feature many other environmental highlights, including:

  • Energy Conservation:  The hospital complex will use 50 percent less energy than the average US hospital.
  • Carbon Footprint:  Photovoltaic panels on the roof and parking structure will reduce carbon dioxide output by 390 tons per year.
  • Green Roofs and Gardens: The extent of green space at the hospital complex will be among the highest of any urban hospital in the United States. The project includes 1.1 acres of roof gardens and 3.2 acres of other green spaces.
  • Irrigation Water: The project will collect, treat and reuse 1 million gallons of cooling tower water to irrigate the gardens, offsetting 25 percent of the facility’s water needs for landscaping.
  • Domestic Water: The project integrates water-efficient devices that reduce water use 40 percent. Efficient domestic water fixtures and water-saving appliances will be included in all buildings, saving another 4 million gallons of water per year.

To Learn More

UCSF anticipates beginning construction of the new medical center by December 2010. If you would like additional information or are interested in supporting the project, please contact Holly Houston, director of communications of the Mission Bay Hospitals Project at 415/241-5021.

The following links provide resources for learning more:

UCSF Medical Center at Mission Bay
Sustainable Medical Centers at UC
Cradle to Cradle
A Matter of Health
US Green Building Council

Story:  Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact
Photos:  UCSF Medical Center