10 ways to build a green veterinary hospital


Building green is all the rage, but it can be tough to see through the fog of hazy information and ideas. Here's a guide to clearing the air and creating your dream earth-friendly hospital.

Building a green facility might seem like a daunting-and expensive-task. But before you throw up your hands and build a trash-generating, energy-hogging, water-wasting facility, take a look at what Dr. Matt Rooney has done.

Dr. Rooney, owner of Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists in Longmont, Colo., recently built one of the most efficient veterinary facilities in the country. Team members have adopted the practice's mission to be kind to the earth, ensuring that almost nothing goes to waste. Here are 10 of Dr. Rooney's ideas that you can implement yourself:

1. Use waste stations. Instead of placing trash cans throughout the facility, Dr. Rooney opted for waste stations, which include receptacles for trash, recyclables, and compost material. “With this effort alone, we've reduced our waste by 70 percent,” Dr. Rooney says. It took team members some time to get used to the new system-especially those who weren't familiar with recycling. “We had to pull items out of the trash at times to show staff members the proper spot for them,” he says. Dr. Rooney also asks suppliers to minimize packaging waste by shipping unboxed products.

2. Consider alternative transportation. While clients may not have the option to bring their pets on board the city bus or subway, team members might find public transportation to be a great way to get to work and save gas money. Dr. Rooney kept this in mind when searching for Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists' new location. He hit the jackpot when he found a spot near two bus stops. He also installed bike racks, showers, and lockers at the practice for team members who want to ride to work or exercise while on a break.

3. Reuse materials. Instead of simply bulldozing his existing structure, Dr. Rooney made sure no piece of the original building was wasted. Construction teams performed a “surgical demolition,” saving doors, windows, concrete, insulation, and other materials to be reused in the renovation. Dr. Rooney listed materials the practice couldn't recycle on Craigslist to ensure that nothing ended up in a landfill. This laborious process cost much more than a typical demolition, but Dr. Rooney stuck to his guns to fulfill his practice's green mission.

4. Use earth-friendly paint. Low- and no-VOC paints release fewer toxins into the air than normal paint. Be prepared to dedicate more time to touch-up, though: some of these paints are less durable and can chip or scratch easily.

5. Paint the roof. The roof at Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists is strikingly different from most. That's because it's bright white. Dr. Rooney chose to paint existing roof elements white and install a white membrane to reflect heat. This helps cool the building during hot summer days.

6. Purchase efficient appliances. From the washer and dryer to the toilets, all of Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists' appliances consume minimal energy. The HVAC system uses an energy-recuperation system that draws a current from outgoing air and uses it to heat or cool incoming air. “These appliances are more expensive up front,” Dr. Rooney says. “But in the long run, the extra cost will pay off.”

7. Install carbon dioxide censors. Programmable thermostats are old news. These days, carbon dioxide sensors do the trick. Installed in overhead ductwork of compatible HVAC systems, these sensors can detect how many people are in a room based on the amount of carbon dioxide in the air and adjust the temperature accordingly. Dr. Rooney can then log onto Web-based software and view usage reports or tweak temperature settings. “This system allows for an incredible level of control,” Dr. Rooney says.

8. Buy wind energy. Dr. Rooney purchases wind energy credits from his local power company, so all of the practice's electricity comes from wind. Even though clients don't necessarily know this, Dr. Rooney is adamant in sticking with the mission. “From an environmental standpoint, we had to go this route,” he says.

9. Plant a garden. In a small but worthwhile effort, Dr. Rooney planted a staff garden behind the practice. Team members take pride in maintaining the garden and enjoy the carrots, tomatoes, onions, and other vegetables they grow.

10. Educate your clients. Dr. Rooney has created informational posters that hang in the lobby at Aspen Meadow Veterinary Specialists. The posters list all the steps the practice has taken to build a green facility and educates clients about green living. “If we get marketing attention out of our efforts, great,” Dr. Rooney says. “But if not, we're still doing the right things.”

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