Getting Green with Water and Energy

In the last blog entry, “All Systems Go … Green!” we took a high-level look at a couple of the sustainable design rating systems. Dental practices and equipment can be water and energy use intensive. The LEED Water Efficiency and Energy and Atmosphere categories together make up 40% or more of the points possible for project certification. Designing your practice environment to reduce the use of water and energy will go a long way toward your goal of a green dental practice.

Water use and energy use are connected. Only 1% of all the water in the world is potable. It takes energy to heat water, usually using natural gas or electricity. The more hot water is used, the more energy is used. Processing potable water is energy intensive. The water not only needs to be treated, but it also takes energy to pump it to its destination.

Energy use has a direct impact on climate and our health. The EPA estimates two-thirds of the greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. are the result of energy use by homes, buildings and industry. Particulate matter and other pollutants are also released into the air when fossil fuels are combusted to create electricity. These can trigger respiratory and cardiovascular symptoms and illnesses.

Designing a building or interior environment that conserves water and energy can get pretty complex. Your engineering and design team has the expertise to solve the more complex challenges. However, there are choices you can make as the dental practice owner to make a significant contribution to meeting your water and energy conservation goals.

Choose to locate your practice in a building designed and operated to sustainable standards

  • Buildings that are LEED certified or built to other sustainable standards will have infrastructure and systems in place to reduce environmental impacts. Sustainably designed buildings generally provide added benefits to lessees, so building owners will advertise these attributes to potential tenants.

Establish sustainable purchasing policies for equipment that supports energy and water conservation.

  • Buy equipment that is ENERGY STAR rated when available. ENERGY STAR products are third-party certified to ensure that they meet the highest energy standards.
  • When ENERGY STAR products are not available, choose the most efficient option. Here’s an example: A traditional dental light with a quartz-halogen xenon light source uses 95 watts. A LED dental light uses only 15 watts, has a higher light intensity and produces light at the same color temperature as the traditional version. There is an added energy saving benefit of LED dental lights. They produce less than 10% of the heat of a conventional dental lamp – lessening the air conditioning required.
  • Install energy efficient lighting. The choice of ambient lighting fixtures also has a significant impact on energy use. Lighting technology has changed drastically over the past few years. Incandescent light bulbs are no longer being produced. Fluorescent lighting, which uses much less energy with bulbs that last much longer than incandescent, are common. New LED lighting products are flowing into the market every day. LEDs use a fraction of the energy fluorescent lighting uses, and don’t contain mercury. They also last tens of thousands of hours compared to fluorescent, which are typically rated at 6,000 to 10,000 hours.
  • Install steam sterilizers and waterless vacuums to make significant reductions in the water used by your dental practice. Medical Facilities & Laboratories produced by The Alliance for Water Efficiency gives a great example. It explains that a traditional wet dental vacuum uses between 360 and 720 gallons of water per day (gpd). A dry vacuum uses no water. A dry vacuum also needs one-third to one-half of the electricity to operate as a wet vacuum and doesn’t need to be plumbed for water. The benefits of a dry vacuum add up to significant reductions in water, energy and other resource use.
  • Like ENERGY STAR, the EPA has another partnership program called WaterSense. This program helps consumers to find easy ways to save water. Like ENERGY STAR, WaterSense plumbing products can carry the WaterSense label when they certified to operate well and are highly water efficient.

Whether you are planning a new practice and/or office space or have an existing dental practice, water and energy use have a big impact on your practice’s bottom line. ENERGY STAR has a website for small business owners. The site has excellent unbiased information and tools to help you find even more ways to reduce energy waste and costs to meet your business goals … all while helping to protect the natural environment.