Seeing green: Practice harmonizes with its environment

Seeing green: Practice harmonizes with its environment

Veterinary Specialty & Emergency Care's use of green building practices ensures that its relationship with the environment will be long and harmonious.
Jun 01, 2008

Indirect glow: A metal-slat system diffuses natural light so that sunlight can enter the building without overheating the interior. Photos by Dr. Bruce Jens.
When veterinary specialty & emergency care (VSEC) of Madison, Wis., moved into its new 23,000-square-foot facility in March 2007, a 15-fold increase in space wasn't the only major change doctors and team members experienced. The new practice was also built "green," using environmentally friendly products and strategies. "We felt strongly about our impact on the local community and environment, as well as our larger impact in terms of energy consumption and waste production," says hospital administrator Dr. Bruce Jens. "As responsible citizens, we couldn't ignore the bigger picture."

VSEC decided to take the extra steps necessary to become LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified, a designation conferred by the U.S. Green Building Council indicating a superior level of environmentally responsible building. "No other veterinary practice has taken that step, so we decided we would show that it could be done," Dr. Jens says. "Veterinarians can do it."

The design-build firm that VSEC worked with has submitted documentation of the green aspects of the building project. While approval of the paperwork and an on-site visit by Green Building Council representatives to kick the tires (so to speak) is pending, the building is considered "LEED-registered."

VSEC's efforts focused on three main areas: the grounds, the building, and hospital operations. Here's how this 10-doctor, three-owner specialty practice went green. Maybe their ideas will inspire thoughts for your own environmentally friendly project.


Strategic location: The building is positioned close to the street corner so that the natural habitat behind the structure is left as pristine as possible.
No HVAC "beast." Most commercial buildings contain a central HVAC unit that groans and growls as it heaves heating and cooling to remote parts of the facility. And some energy is inevitably lost en route. At VSEC, the heating and cooling mechanisms are located in the space above the drop ceiling and are distributed throughout the building—about four per floor. Each heats or cools only its own local zone, which is much more energy-efficient than a traditional system. The HVAC system also cycles air with heat exchangers that keep the air clean while reducing energy loss associated with air turnover.

The right white. A white roof reflects solar energy and reduces the need for cooling, which is the most energy-intense function of the hospital. Plentiful windows serve to maximize natural light and improve the work environment for employees.

Southern exposure: The hospital's treatment area is set up to get the most direct light.
Cool screening. The windows are shaded by metal slats positioned to block direct light and let in diffused light—"so we don't become like the car sitting in the sun with the windows closed," Dr. Jens says. "There's no direct hot beam of light—the place where the cat wants to sleep." VSEC team members are unanimous in their agreement that the natural daylight is their favorite feature of the hospital.

Smart flooring. Unlike vinyl tile, VSEC's low-maintenance ceramic tile and epoxy flooring means no stripping and waxing or using the associated nasty chemicals.

Fresh air. The hospital used low- to no-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints and adhesives that wouldn't volatilize into the air. Team members also researched and chose green cleaning chemicals for windows, surfaces, floors, and laundry. "The staff appreciates this a lot—they say it feels healthier, that the air they're breathing is clean and fresh," Dr. Jens says. "And it's better for the community when we dispose of the wastewater. Of course, with parvovirus, we're still going to pull out the bleach."

Task-oriented: Strategically placed lighting in the treatment area reduces the need for energy-gobbling overhead fixtures.
Earth-friendly materials. The hospital's builder used recycled materials during the construction process—plus these materials can be recycled or reused again.

A light touch. VSEC uses fluorescent and compact fluorescent bulbs in a plan that maximizes task lighting. Lighting is installed only where it's necessary. This reduces the need for large, overhead broadcast lighting. Many of the lights are also on timers so they shut off when they're not being used, which maximizes bulb life.