Network material ecology for hospitals

The use of sustainable building materials is a key issue for sustainable development of the building sector. Emission free indoor air, minimized embodied energy of construction materials and health risk for construction workers are three main aspects. Between five hospital operators in Austria, Germany and Switzerland a practical exchange of experience focused on material ecology will be initiated and moderated.

Short Description




Starting point/Motivation

In the last years the discussion about sustainable building focused primarily on energy efficiency. The issue of healthy building materials has taken a back seat. In times of increasing energy efficiency of buildings health and environmental issues gain importance. (Fechner 2010, Fechner et al. 2007, Hofer et al. 2006, Zwiener und Mötzl 2006, Belazzi 2002, Öko Institut 2001)

Why? On the one hand because buildings become more air tight and therefore indoor air emissions become much more relevant. On the other hand because in building of high energy efficiency the life cycle burden of energy use is decreasing and therefore the energy consumption during the production of building materials is gaining importance (Gustavsson und Joelsson, 2010, König et al. 2009 Sartori und Hestnes, 2007, Lipp et al.)

Over the last years the pressure on public authorities is increasing to use their market power as well as their role model to increase the transformation towards environmentally friendly and innovative markets (Tisch, 2012). To do this the public authorities need – beside a legal framework – also numerous tools, e. g. information material and training courses. A tool, which is relatively new to public authorities, is the information and know-how exchange between them in networks specialized on public authorities.

Contents and Objectives

This project pursued the overriding goal that in the construction and renovation of hospital buildings an increasing amount of healthy and environmentally sound materials should be used. The term „healthy and environmentally sound materials” is defined in this project as follows: Materials should be produced with low energy consumption and should be free of toxic pollutants. Preferable materials are made from renewable or recycled materials and do not harm the health of the workers that use them during construction as well as those who use the building later on. The focus of this study was on the aspects of toxic-free and good indoor air quality. (Uhde, Salthammer 2007)

To achieve this goal a network of experts for the planning and construction of hospital buildings was initiated. This project had three goals:

  • To research and evaluate the current status-quo regarding material ecology and energy efficiency (incl. renewable energy and plus energy buildings) and which factors influence the implementation of material ecology issues in the organisations.
  • To research together with all network partners, which tools to implement material ecology are still necessary for their implementation in these organisations and to develop these instruments.
  • To assist all network partner while they implement these material ecology criteria in their pilot projects.
  • Linking this network “Ökobaunetz Krankenanstalten” to existing initiatives like the European branch of the international network “Health Care Without Harm” (
  • Distributing the project results via a public half-day workshop, articles in professional journals, a press release and presentation at external symposia and workshops.

Leading hospital operations from Austria, Germany and Switzerland take part in this project and the developed network „Ökobaunetz Krankenanstalten“. These are operator of public hospitals from the Austrian province of Styria (KAGes) and Upper Austria (gespag and “Kreuzschwestern Wels”), the construction department of the province of Lower Austria (responsible among others for nursing and retirement homes), the University Clinic of Freiburg (Germany), Basel and Bern (both Switzerland), the “EcoBuyVienna” program of the City of Vienna and the international hospital network “Health Care Without Harm”.


In this project the following methods were used:

  • Qualitative interviews with all network partners to survey their current status quo of material ecology and energy efficiency implementation and to analyse the influencing factors
  • Literature and Internet research to research existing tools for the implementation of material ecology
  • Meetings of all partners to build the network. The consisted of a collective evening meal and full-day work shop the next day, which included an on-site excursion of a hospital construction project which was either finished or under-construction.
  • Pilot projects, in which all network partners - assisted by a project partner - was implementing the before learned methods of material ecology.
  • Project presentation at external symposia and meetings as well as at a half day workshop organized by the project partners at the end of this project


The project had basically five main results:

  • Information to the extent net work partners incorporate material ecology and energy efficiency criteria. The result is that most network partners are much more active concerning energy efficiency than regarding material ecology. The later was mostly not systematically implemented.
  • Identification of 16 success factors for material ecology. A part of these factors was positively affected by this project.
  • Development and enhancement of tools to implement material ecology in the form of information sheets. These can support all persons involved in the planning a construction of the buildings to systematically implement material ecology.
  • Implementation of material ecology in pilot projects of all network partners. Some of them could also be used as “Haus der Zukunft” demonstration projects.
  • Installation of the network “Ökobaunetz Krankenanstalten”. This process took course very positively.

Prospects / Suggestions for future research

We recommend a more intensive consideration of material ecology using the knowledge and know-how gained in this project at all demonstration “Haus der Zukunft” projects as well as in other building related research projects.

We further recommend that the funding of the “Ökobaunetz Krankenanstalten” should be continued on a low level for three more years to further strengthen and widen the network.

Suggested is a network meeting once a year (which has both skill enhancement and exchange of experience character) as a central anchor point and a small budget of additional coordination work.

Project Partners

Contact Address

bauXund forschung und beratung gmbh
Dr. Thomas Belazzi
Ungargasse 64-66/ Stg.4 / 2.Stock
A 1030 Wien
Tel.: +43 (1) 36070-841
Fax: +43 (1) 36070-808