Environmental sustainability at the heart of new hospital design

Power saving, water and waste recycling amongst green initiatives at Netcare Alberton Hospital 

Solar power, advanced energy, water and waste management systems, integral building design elements, and materials are some of the green initiatives that form part of the environmentally sustainable approach to healthcare at the new ultramodern Netcare Alberton Hospital, which will open to patients in April this year.

“Developing the large 427-bed hospital from scratch presented us with the ideal opportunity to lay a strong foundation for providing healthcare more sustainably, through reducing reliance on the national power grid and conserving and recycling water, among other environmentally-conscious design features,” says Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s hospital division. 

Solar energy and natural light  

The new hospital, which will merge and expand the facilities and services of Netcare Clinton and Netcare Union hospitals, is equipped with a photovoltaic solar energy generating system that will contribute two gigawatt hours – that is the equivalent of seven million energy efficient light bulbs – of electricity each year.  

“This renewable solar energy will considerably lighten the hospital’s use of fossil fuel based energy resources, while also reducing greenhouse gas emissions, being the most ambitious photovoltaic system installed within the Group’s operations to date,” adds André Nortjé, national environmental sustainability manager at Netcare.

Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC)

The layout and orientation of the building offer optimal temperature exchange, including from mechanical systems incorporated into the facility’s operations. A high efficiency HVAC system will regulate air temperature as needed and utilise this excess heat from all the areas to supply the entire hospital’s hot water needs, representing a considerable power saving.  

The air conditioning systems incorporate economy cycles, which utilise free cooling from the atmosphere to cool the building under moderate conditions.

“The layout and orientation of the building together with the use of windows and low-emissivity fenestration means that we have the advantage of natural light entering the building while heat, infrared and ultraviolet light are blocked, helping to maintain internal temperature stability, therefore minimising energy expended on heating and cooling all year round,” Nortjé explains. 

Water saving and on-site treatment and recycling facility

“Water is a finite resource and as a result of global warming and pollution the availability of quality potable water supplies in South Africa are becoming more and more constrained. Some projections suggest that South Africa’s demand for water could outstrip the available water supply by 17% by 2030 based on projected population and economic growth. In the new hospital’s systems we have therefore considered how this looming risk of water shortages could be mitigated,” Nortjé says.

“In line with Netcare’s 2030 sustainability strategy and our participation in the United Nations led international Race to Zero 2050 challenge, the Netcare Alberton Hospital will conserve water as far as possible through its own, on-site grey water treatment plant,” he says. 

Last year, Netcare became the first private healthcare organisation in Africa to commit to the Race to Zero 2050 challenge, pledging to support the UN’s goal of achieving net zero emissions by 2050. 

“Recycled grey water collected from sources including sinks, showers and kitchens throughout the hospital will represent approximately 60% of the healthcare facility’s projected water demands,” Nortje explains. 

“The grey water is safely captured, through a system entirely separate from the black water system, and treated to the purity and quality standards of drinking water. The water quality is continually monitored in real time in line with the national water quality standards (SANS241) and other regulatory requirements, providing assurance that the hospital’s water is both safe and sustainable.

“We estimate that 30,404kL of water can be saved annually through this treatment process, which will then be fed back into bulk water storage ready for use,” he explains.

“In addition, Netcare Alberton Hospital also has an attenuation pond with a function to capture rainwater, as well as four boreholes, all of which can be fed back to the treatment plant and re-used within the facility if needed. Should the need ever arise, we have even made provision for treatment of black water with minimal adjustment to the water treatment plant, as one of the future fit features of the hospital design,” Nortjé says.

The hospital has also been fitted with energy and water efficient sanitary ware, showerheads and toilets, as well as energy saving LED lighting, controlled by sensors to prevent wastage when no one is in a room or specific area.

Large atriums with water wise indigenous plants and large windows throughout illuminate the building with natural light, creating a bright yet calming atmosphere conducive to healing while further reducing the need for artificial lighting. 

exterior view of nectar Alberton hospital

Future fit and aiming for zero emissions

A full building management system (BMS) monitors water and power usage throughout the technologically advanced, digitally enabled hospital, and proactively detects where maintenance may be needed. This proactively troubleshoots the potential for any unnecessary wastage and optimises efficiency in the hospital’s daily operations. 

“A large area which is designated for sorting and processing waste materials will enable non-hazardous healthcare waste to be reclaimed for recycling, reducing waste to landfill as far as possible. Non-hazardous PVC intravenous bags and other consumables are, for example, separated, recycled and turned into brand new school shoes for learners through the MyWalk project, a joint initiative between Netcare and Adcock Ingram Critical Care. This approach is in keeping with Netcare’s ambitious goal to achieve zero waste to landfill and 100% of electrical energy obtained from renewable sources by 2030,” says Du Plessis.

“Environmental consciousness is a growing priority for people in their everyday lives. The advanced design features, mechanical and building management systems at Netcare Alberton Hospital along with the Netcare Group’s sustainability targets demonstrate that healthcare organisations can, and should, make a key contribution to protecting the health of our environment for the benefit of individuals, communities and future generations,” he concludes.

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