November 6th, 2012 by David E. Williams of the Health business blog
This is a guest post by Erin Palmer.
Environmental sustainability is now more commonplace in the healthcare industry, reaching beyond large, single projects and into everyday practices at hospitals and other facilities.
More hospitals are setting objectives and implementing policies, such as reduction of excessive energy use, without compromising patient care. Challenges remain, though, including the issue of cost.
However, sustainability is beginning to make economic sense. A 2012 study by the Healthier Hospitals Initiative – an non-profit organization founded by 11 of the largest U.S. health systems to find ways of making hospitals more sustainable – found that 149 hospitals have saved $55 million in the past several years by investing in energy and water conservation and recycling, as well as avoiding waste generation.
The benefits to the environment were also widespread and significant. The study found that the amount of waste produced by these hospitals was 64,800 tons less than it would have been without sustainability programs in place. The hospitals also used 200,000 less gallons of fuel and 150 million less gallons of water.
There is definitely a cost savings if the healthcare facility is willing to make the initial investment.
Going Green in Healthcare: LEED Certification Gains Popularity
One best practice that hospitals are working toward is acquiring LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification through the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). According to Health Care Finance News, a new or renovated healthcare facility wins LEED certification when it implements and uses sustainable designs, green building materials and energy-efficient systems.
The USGBC uses strict guidelines in determining whether the healthcare facility attains a Silver, Gold or Platinum rating. LEED-certified facilities are able to take advantage of an increasing number of local and state incentives. It also allows the facility to brand itself as an environmentally-conscious entity.
In February 2012, Katz Women’s Hospital at North Shore University, part of North Shore-LIJ Health System., achieved the first Platinum LEED rating in New York. This prestigious rating was attained through the hospital’s initiative on renovating its third floor’s use of energy, lighting, water and eco-friendly materials. Katz Women’s Hospital includes private maternity rooms that utilize natural light, a newborn nursery and work areas.
The hospital now uses nearly 20% less energy and 51% less water, according to Health Care Finance News. It is projected that 100% of the electrical power used in the next two years of operation will have been sourced from renewable energy – wind power.
Amy Lipman, an environmental sustainability coordinator for Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, told Forbes magazine that Beth Israel has saved hundreds of thousands of dollars since 2010 by implementing eco-friendly changes. Lipman said that she works with medical professionals who “want to do the right thing…and hospitals are all about patient care. So everything needs to be scrutinized, and for the right reasons.”
Environmentally Friendly Hospitals Show Small Changes Have Big Impact
Some of the changes at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center are rather small, according to Forbes. However, they have made a big impact not only with improved patient care but with reduced expenditures. Recent changes include:
n Eliminating 50 tons of medical journals that were being delivered to medical professionals no longer working at the facility, thus reducing waste and maximizing space.
n Combining its shuttle service with four other local hospitals, thereby conserving energy and increasing efficiency.
n Replacing disposable plastic water pitchers with reusable plastic mugs in its maternity ward, reducing supply usage up to 20%.
n Disposing of hypodermic needles into washable and reusable “sharps” containers, as opposed to containers that were previously treated as hazardous waste.
n Ongoing review of medical kits from vendors to determine what contents are unnecessary; therefore, reducing waste regarding future orders.
Sustainable Results: Beyond the Bottom Line
Sustainability changes affect more than just the bottom line, of course. The main purpose is to limit the environmental impact of the healthcare industry.
The Healthier Hospital Initiative provides information and addresses the needs for the health care industry to practice smarter purchasing, utilize safer, chemical-free cleaning products, find safer alternatives for waste disposal, model healthier eating behavior through local and sustainable foods and reduce energy consumption.
Further, the end result of these new policies has also lessened the negative impact on the environment, according to the Healthier Hospital Initiative.
Although it can be costly on the front end, “going green”, including initiatives through LEED certification and Healthier Hospital Initiatives directives, is a wise investment in the long run for healthcare facilities to improve patient care, lessen the negative impact on the environment and, in effect, maximize financial growth.
This guest post was provided by Erin Palmer. Erin writes about healthcare management degree programs, allied health careers and related issues for US News University Directory and Best Allied Health Programs.