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Green medicine

Conquest - Summer 2012

Across the MD Anderson campus, fan arrays are beginning to replace larger, inefficient fans as a way to move air through a building. For the same amount of energy expended, these arrays help produce temperatures 5 degrees to 6 degrees cooler.
Photo: F. Carter Smith

Recycling efforts make positive impact on environment

By David Raffetto

The task of curing cancer comes with some inconvenient truths — environmentally speaking.

With more than 19,000 employees and volunteers serving patients and conducting research in nearly 40 buildings, MD Anderson requires energy and materials beyond the scope of a typical health care facility.

Upholding standards of care while minimizing environmental impact is something that MD Anderson has embraced. Being an international leader in cancer care comes with tremendous responsibility to patients, to science and to the planet.

By the numbers

In a typical year, MD Anderson’s green initiatives divert up to 3 million pounds of waste from landfills. That number incudes everything from paper and plastic to scrap silver and mercury materials.

Having back-end programs for recycling and reuse is only half the story, though.

“People always focus on the recycling numbers,” notes Matt Berkheiser, Dr.P.H., executive director for Environmental Health and Safety. “And those efforts are important. But equally important is eliminating potential waste on the front end by using less, and by working smarter and more efficiently.”

For example, recycling 25% of paper used is good. But moving to an electronic process and not using that paper in the first place is much better.

“To truly be a green institution, it takes more than buy-in on the consumer end after a resource is already used,” Berkheiser says. “It takes a concerted effort to design processes and operations in ways that account for environmental impact from the beginning.”

Beyond the blue bins

Every workplace has them. Maybe they are green instead of blue, but the bin with the three arrows — the one beside the trash can — is often seen as the sole symbol for sustainable efforts.

Not so at MD Anderson, where those blue bins are just one of many repositories and programs designed to cultivate a green-thinking culture.

“Paper and plastic recycling isn’t enough,” says Mike Pokluda, program manager in Environmental Protection. “We look at everything: batteries, printer cartridges, discarded electronics, X-ray film, blue wrap from the surgery suites — even the wood pallets that sit on our loading docks and in our warehouses. If part of a material can be reused, recycled or disposed of in a more environmentally conscious way, we’re committed to doing just that.”

Green efforts go beyond materials management. Commuting programs like vanpools and mass transit reimbursement ensure that MD Anderson employees use less fossil fuel on the way to work.

The use of bio-renewable cleaners makes for a greener choice than petroleum-based products. And incorporating drought-resistant plants into the campus landscape helps with water conservation.

On the research side of the house, chemical storage and chemical inventory systems help safeguard those substances that are crucial for cancer breakthroughs but toxic when released into the natural environment.

Blue bins, sure — but so much more.

At Mid Campus Building 1, water reclaimed from 
air-conditioning and ventilation systems irrigates 
flowers and trees, saving almost 1 million gallons 
a year.
Photo: Gini Reed


A recent addition to the Texas Medical Center skyline is 
MD Anderson’s Mid Campus Building, or 1MC. One might expect the 25-story, 1.4 million-square-foot behemoth to be a resource drain.

Well, best not judge a building by its size. From the initial design phase, 1MC was drawn up to be different.

With an open-office floor plan surrounded by glass panels, most of the building benefits from plentiful natural light. Automated lighting systems sense existing light and adjust their own artificial levels. Permanent sunshades on the west side of the building keep things cool in the summer months.

The building is a fine example of simplicity and sophistication working together to save electricity.

1MC helps itself in other ways, too. The building’s cooling and ventilation systems collect condensation that gets re-routed for landscape irrigation.

“That’s more than a million gallons of water each year that we’re reclaiming and not buying from the City of Houston,” says Lawrence Kubacak, project director in Capital Planning and Management.

That’s smart architecture redefining the term “green space” altogether.

Nurturing nature

These and other strategies are proving MD Anderson to be a leader among its peers — not only as a cancer care and cancer research facility, but also as a place where sustainability is taken seriously.

In many endeavors, health care institutions strive to be a step ahead. As far as environmental footprints are concerned, though, MD Anderson treads lightly.

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