WASHINGTON, D.C. – Practice Greenhealth recently released its eighth annual Sustainability Benchmark Report. The report analyzes data from leading hospitals and health systems across the country, giving a snapshot of trends in environmental performance and sustainability in energy, water, toxics, food and other categories. Practice Greenhealth first reported on the environmental performance of its members in 2009.
The Benchmark Report shows comprehensive data illustrating the progress of sustainability across the healthcare sector. The report analyzes data provided by healthcare facilities of various types and sizes located across the country. In addition to reporting out on metrics, the report shares sustainability trends and emerging areas of focus.
Notable trends are listed below.
Climate & Energy Clear scientific consensus backed by decades of research shows that climate change poses a danger to human health. Hospitals recognize their unique opportunity to address climate change, yet U.S. hospitals emit an estimated eight percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing the energy use in hospitals is paramount to improving the sector’s environmental footprint.
Trends: In the last three years, the percentage of facilities that have a written plan to address climate change mitigation has nearly doubled. Also, more hospitals are relying on renewable energy — the percentage of facilities that generate or purchase renewable energy has increased by 81 percent.
Waste Hospitals in the U.S. produce more than 4.67 million tons of waste each year. Waste is one of the most visible environmental issues associated with hospitals and healthcare systems, both in terms of the quantity of waste generated and in the complexity of managing it appropriately. Amid rising concern about increasing waste removal fees, hospitals also recognize that waste disposal can have a health impact on communities.
Trends: In the last two years, the percentage of facilities that have taken measures to reduce the generation of pharmaceutical waste has grown by 11 percent. Leading hospitals are routinely achieving a 30 percent recycling rate — more than double the early EPA goal of 15 percent. However, surpassing the 30 percent mark has proven to be more challenging for hospitals. Overall, hospitals recycled 121,556 tons of material saving nearly $23.7 million dollars through recycling, with hospitals generating more than 1,400 pounds of recycling per full time employee.
Safer Chemicals Hospitals continue to recognize the value of reducing toxicity in the nation’s places of healing. More hospitals are purchasing products with safer chemicals to reduce patient and staff exposure through everyday products like furnishings and furniture, cleaners and medical devices that contain chemicals linked to health issues.
Trends: In 2016, the percentage of hospitals prioritizing furniture and medical furnishings free of halogenated flame retardants, formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds and PVC (vinyl) more than doubled from the previous year. A total of 78 percent of hospitals have chemical or purchasing policies that identify specific chemicals of concern to human health and the environment with 79 percent purchasing certified green cleaning chemicals and 30 percent indicating they have programs in place to purchase furniture or furnishings that avoid chemicals of concern.
Water By 2030, studies show that global water supplies will meet just 60 percent of total demand. With historic droughts happening around the world, a growing number of hospitals are examining water use and looking for ways to change operations to use water more efficiently. U.S. hospitals use more than seven percent of the nation’s commercial water supply. While progress is being made in the water conservation arena, there are still considerable opportunities for improvement.
Trends: In the last three years, the percentage of facilities that benchmark water usage has doubled. During that time, there’s also been a 36 percent increase in the percentage of facilities that have a written plan to reduce water use over time with specific goals and a timeline. However, only 17 percent of hospitals reported any water reduction projects in 2015. The slowly rising price of water, combined with severe drought and changing weather patterns in some areas, is forcing hospitals to renew attention to water use.
Healthy Food The U.S. spends billions of dollars annually to treat diet-related, chronic diseases — $147 billion to treat obesity alone, another $116 billion to treat diabetes and hundreds of billions to treat cardiovascular disease and cancer. Thinking about food in a systematic, holistic way is emerging as an important component of a hospital’s sustainability programs. A focus on more sustainable food systems means providing healthier options for patients and staff, as well as thoughtful purchasing and sourcing. Sustainable food programs consider the entire lifecycle of the food offered to patients and staff — including how it is produced, processed and transported (and how far it had to travel).
Trends: The majority of facilities have indicated they see sustainable food as an important area of focus — 62 percent have a policy in place to address this issue. While 72 percent of hospitals reported purchasing locally and/or sustainably grown and produced food, farm to hospital relationships are still in initial or growth stages and some facilities struggle with operationalizing the definitions of “local” or sustainable.” Half of participating facilities have reduced their meat purchases, and 54 percent purchase some portion of their meat/poultry raised without the routine use of antibiotics.
This report is based on data supplied in applications by a total of 322 hospitals that participated in Practice Greenhealth’s 2016 Environmental Excellence Awards.