A Watershed Moment: Catherine’s Health Center and the Journey to LEED Certification

On this week’s episode we hear from Janet Zahn, Development Director at Catherine’s Health Center, as she discusses her organization’s sustainably-built clinic.

Catherine’s moved into its LEED-certified facility in January 2011 after completing a successful capital campaign that raised $1.275 million. Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED, which stands for Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design, provides metrics and verification for building owners and operators engaged in sustainable, low-impact construction projects.

Sometimes referred to as a “free clinic,” Catherine’s Health Center is a nonprofit organization offering primary medical care for patients without insurance. When Catherine’s first opened in 1996 it was a nurse-run clinic that operated out of the basement of St. Alphonsus Church, located in Grand Rapids’ Creston Neighborhood.

The decision to pursue LEED certification was an easy one for Zahn and the rest of the administrative staff at Catherine’s Heath Center. “We live in a community that very strongly supports green buildings. If you would like to undertake a project and seek funding from major funders in the community, they prefer [donating to sustainable projects],” said Zahn.

“It was also a natural extension of the philosophy we’ve always had around stewardship. We’ve always been a place that’s made due with small amounts, and never wasted and has been very careful money and our resources. So to invest in the kind of infrastructure that would allow us to continue that was natural,” she said.

Instead of starting a building project from scratch, Catherine’s acquired a vacant, 120 year-old building adjacent to St. Alphonsus Church thanks to an agreement from the Diocese of Grand Rapids allowing them to use the space rent free for 20 years in return for paying the renovation fees.

According to the USGBC, repurposing existing buildings is an excellent sustainable alternative to new construction projects. This and a variety of small design features such as using building materials with low VOC ratings, getting furniture donated from local companies and installing carpet made from recycled materials allowed Catherine’s to achieve LEED Gold Certification.

“We had support from Steelcase, which donated furnishing, which was part of how we rated highly on the LEED certification because it was local,” said Zahn, “A lot of things were made with low-impact manufacturing techniques.”

Zahn is appreciative of Catherine’s new space and sees a parallel between green building techniques and her organizations healthcare mission. “Green building is a good example of something you invest in upfront that’s going to save you down the road, like when you invest in your health. When you invest in caring for yourself and preventing yourself from becoming sick you’re going to have fewer costs down the line. In the same way if you invest in green building it might be more effort and a higher cost up front but you’re saving energy down the road,” said Zahn.

The West Michigan chapter of the USGBC will tour Catherine’s Health Center this Thursday to learn about the organization’s journey to LEED certification. Price of admission is free to chapter members and $5 for non-members.

Listen to this week’s episode online.

“A Watershed Moment” is a weekly radio program focused on environmental news and happenings in West Michigan, plus solutions for living a greener life.  Broadcast on WYCE-FM 88.1 on Tuesdays at 8:30am and 5:30pm, this program is produced by Grand Rapids Community Media Center and West Michigan Environmental Action Council.

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