Physicians Strategies For Success library
Designing for the Environment
Many of us are thinking “green” as we design our new dental practices, working to incorporate sustainable materials and methodologies to help support the environment.
Our motivations for designing a green dental practice may range from a personal commitment to decreasing our carbon footprint, to an interest in saving money by reducing our start-up costs. But whatever our objective, an environmentally conscious office design, if carefully planned, is a wise investment not only for the health of the planet but for the health of our practices, as well.
The good news is that with the many resources available today, it’s quite possible to create a “green” practice, even on a limited budget.
Defining a Green Practice
Applying green principles to your dental practice can be an extremely broad undertaking, encompassing everything from the orientation of your building on its site, to the minimization of paper files. For the purposes of practice design, use these guidelines for establishing a green dental office:
- In general, a green practice reduces consumption of energy and natural resources, and improves air quality.
- Internal furnishings and coverings do not contribute to poor interior air quality through use of toxins during the manufacturing process, but rather, have been Greenguard Certified.
- Energy consumption is minimized through conservation methods such as the optimization of natural light, use of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and the minimization of active, electronic controls and systems.
- Air quality is maximized through fresh air intake systems and efficient heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) systems.
- Recycled and recyclable products are selected whenever possible.
Look for Eco-Friendly Furniture
Did you know that traditional office furniture and carpeting can contribute to indoor air pollution? For example, desks, bookcases and cabinets made of particle board release formaldehyde, a toxic chemical classified by the FDA as a possible carcinogen. Further, the formaldehyde, flame retardants and other toxins used to make these products are released as high carcinogens early in the purchase cycle. What is not commonly understood is that these also may be released throughout the product’s life cycle.
Fortunately, a number of companies are now making furniture without harsh chemicals, using sustainable methods to create products that are ultimately healthier for your office. To ensure furniture has minimal toxin levels, check to see that it has been Greenguard Certified. A Greenguard test measures toxin levels and only those that are under the U.S. Green Building Council’s established limits receive the Greenguard certification.
Minimize the Use of Chemically Produced Carpet
Chemically treated carpets, adhesives, and backings are other office design components that are produced through a chemical process and can emit toxins during their life cycles. But today you can purchase carpets made of recyclable materials or 100% virgin wool without chemicals or dyes. These selections minimize the impact of chemical production while contributing to a healthier office environment. Obtain test data prior to purchase and avoid carpets with topical chemical treatments.
Better yet, choose floor coverings with minimal chemical processing and emissions such as ceramic tile, linoleum, or formaldehyde-free particle board. And remember that prices for these products can be comparable to pricing for traditional floor coverings, if carefully selected.
Improve Air Quality–Along With Productivity
High quality interior air is an important aspect of a green, healthy practice, as fresh air can help minimize illness and increase general comfort and productivity. Fortunately, today’s HVAC systems are more efficient than ever, making them a good choice for green practice design. However, be aware that while the use of high–efficiency furnaces, boilers, and air conditioners and distribution systems can save money and improve the environment over time through less energy consumption, the upfront costs can be daunting.
If highest air quality is your priority, consider disinfecting the air within your HVAC system with ultraviolet light or implementing fresh air exchangers. Outside air can be pre-warmed or pre-cooled with heat exchangers, which is energy efficient and greatly increases interior air quality. Heat recovery ventilators should be considered in cold climates. And don’t forget to use green cleaning products to further protect air quality.
Choose Paints with Minimal Chemical Emissions
Traditional paints and sealants are manufactured with and emit chemicals known as volatile organic compounds (VOCs). But today we can purchase low-VOC paints, sealers and adhesives to help maintain interior air quality and minimize chemical emissions both in the practice and in the production process. Obtain Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) and available test data from manufacturers of all building related materials to verify what each product contains prior to using it.
Take Advantage of Tax Incentives and Rebates
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), a non-profit organization devoted to increasing the use of green building practices in the United States, offers Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification to businesses that meet their standards. The 12,000 members of the USGBC include developers, architects, general contractors and interior designers.
LEED certified projects are typically entitled to tax incentives and can be eligible for LEED specific grants and rebates. For instance, some utility companies offer incentives for LEED certified projects and reward projects that meet their criteria for energy savings. So when designing your green practice, consult with your LEED representative and tax professional to see if you might qualify for a tax incentive, grant or rebate.
Statements of opinion not necessarily endorsed by ADA Member Advantage, ADA Business Enterprises, Inc., or the American Dental Association, or any of its subsidiaries, counsels, commissions, or agencies.
A full-time general practitioner, David J. Ahearn, DDS is the founder of Design/Ergonomics, a dental practice design firm. Dr. Ahearn consults with associations, universities and hundreds of private practitioners nationwide on office design, high performance practices and ergonomics. He can be reached at 800-275-2547.
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