‘Going Green’ Reduces Costs, Improves Health of Patients, Staff and Environment
WASHINGTON, DC — Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm, in support of the Healthier Hospital Initiative, have produced the first in a series of videos and other materials that will help hospital administrators and C-Suite personnel understand the urgency and importance of developing sustainable hospital operations. The video, “Leading the Health Care Sector to Sustainability,” features hospital executives, medical experts, and leaders of supporting institutions, who conclude that sustainable health care is not just in the interest of patients and public health, but can generate savings to individual hospitals and reduce the nation’s healthcare bill.
“I believe you can make a great argument for becoming more sustainable and more thoughtful about your environmental impact alone,” stated Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO of Gundersen Lutheran Health System, La Crosse, WI, in the video. “However, you can also save a lot of money. The first $2 million we spent on conservation has resulted in $1.2 million a year savings. That’s a great return on investment.”
Recent studies, including reports from the President’s Cancer Panel and the World Health Organization, link environmental pollution to human disease such as cancer, respiratory and cardiac illness, neurological and endocrine disruption, and other chronic illnesses, with associated healthcare costs of over $1.3 trillion a year. Hospitals have responded by engaging in sustainable operations through reducing waste, recycling, environmentally preferred purchasing, green building, substitution of effective alternative cleaners, and purchasing clean energy. But according to executives, not all changes need to be big or costly.
“By making a simple practice change, Kaiser Permanente was able to reduce the number of chemical sterilization kits we used by 17,000 a year,” stated Kathy Gerwig, Vice-President for Workplace Safety and Environmental Stewardship Officer, Kaiser Permanente. “We switched from rigid endoscopes that needed chemical sterilization to endoscopes that could be steam cleaned. And besides reducing chemicals, we are saving more than $1 million a year.”
According to Cleveland Clinic Senior Director of Sustainability and Environmental Strategy, Christina Vernon, AIA, LEED AP, one of the first things the Cleveland Clinic did when they started engaging in sustainability was to join Practice Greenhealth, a membership organization for hospitals and businesses serving those that are engaged in sustainable healthcare. After Cleveland Clinic’s leadership made the commitment to environmental stewardship, “Practice Greenhealth’s resources helped us hit the ground running. The organization’s awards program helped us obtain buy-in across facilities and helped inspire staff members,” Vernon said. Virginia-based Practice Greenhealth has more than 1100 hospital members.
“The fast growth of Practice Greenhealth reflects the commitment hospitals are making to their sustainability efforts,” said Anna Gilmore Hall, executive director of Practice Greenhealth. “We provide the tools, training and expertise they need so our members can receive guidance and assistance in their efforts to develop sustainable operations, a concept that is often very new to them.” Virginia-based Practice Greenhealth has been in existence for three years and has more than 1100 hospital members.
The Healthier Hospitals Initiative was started by seven major hospital systems of Practice Greenhealth to promote a collective approach to a sustainable healthcare system. The systems, Advocate Health Care; Catholic Healthcare West; Hospital Corporation of America; Inova Health System; Kaiser Permanente; MedStar Health Partners HealthCare, along with Practice Greenhealth, Health Care Without Harm and the Center for Health Design hope to use the purchasing power of the healthcare sector to speed sustainable products to market. HHI has also established a Healthier Hospitals Agenda for hospitals to use as a roadmap for greening their operations.
Environmental concerns are also behind the healthcare sector’s rapidly growing green building boom. Partners HealthCare in Boston, MA, is building a state-of-the art facility, the Lunder Building, as part of its sustainability effort. In the video, John Messervy, AIA, Director of Capital & Facility Planning, Partners HealthCare, describes green features of the building, including high performance curtain walls, a green roof, rainwater collection system, high performance building and energy systems, and green materials, including rubber floors and recycled content for walls and furniture. Partners was also among the first in the nation to build a Healing Garden, which has also become a popular feature in sustainable building.
“Healthcare needs to transform itself to be a greater force for healing on the planet,” states Gary Cohen, founder and President of Health Care Without Harm. “To not only be concerned with healing its patients but to be concerned with healing the larger community and the environment that sustains us all.”
The video was funded in part by BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company) and by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.
Further information on the video and additional referrals and resources are available on the Healthier Hospitals Initiative website.