Proponents of the U.S. Green Building Council's new LEED for Healthcare are optimistic that the program will boost the incentive for hospitals to design and operate facilities that are certifiably energy efficient and sustainable.

"I anticipate that LEED for Healthcare will be a catalyst for further market penetration in the health care sector, particularly as the human health and wellness, building performance and business-related benefits associated with green building are more broadly disseminated," says Gail Vittori, co-director of the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems, and founding chairwoman of the LEED for Healthcare Committee.

The program was six years in the making and approved in late 2010 by 87 percent of voting USGBC members. New licensed or federal inpatient or outpatient health care facilities can register for certification, but are not required to do so until the full certification process is launched in the spring, says Melissa Gallagher-Rogers, director of market development, USGBC. Prior to the new program, hospitals used LEED for New Construction to become certified.

While many of the credits are the same under both programs, the new certification takes into account some of the distinctive qualities of hospitals, especially the fact that they are open every day, around the clock, says Gallagher-Rogers. Key credits will be awarded for ventilation design linked to infection control, abundant daylight, energy efficiency and building site.

Gallagher-Rogers says the Green Guide for Health Care, which was designed by the Center for Maximum Potential Building Systems and Health Care Without Harm, served a critical role in the development of the new certification. In particular, USGBC learned from 100 pilot projects that are ongoing to test Green Guide practices.

As of November, there were 292 LEED-certified health care facilities in the country, says Gallagher-Rogers.