3 steps to reduce hospitals' environmental impact

Hospitals could save billions by going green, according to Dallas/Fort Worth Healthcare Daily.

"From water conservation and waste management efforts, to switching to electronic medical records (EMRs), to purchasing and using non-toxic and reusable cleaning supplies, hospitals are increasingly aware of their environmental impact on patients and their community," writes Terri Scanell, director of corporate citizenship and sustainability at VHA, Inc., an Irving, Texas-based national health system network.

The healthcare industry produces 8 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. But hospitals could save $5.4 billion over five years and as much as $15 billion over a decade by adopting more sustainable practices, according to a 2012 study from the University of Illinois-Chicago's School of Public Health. Those practices include reducing medical and landfill waste, making more efficient OR supply purchases and using reprocessed rather than single-use devices, according to the article.

Hospitals can reduce their environmental impact in three steps, according to the article:

  1. Establish a team. Hospitals should create a task force to oversee sustainability initiatives. This team should be held to specific aims, such as increasing recycling, reducing landfill contributions and raising employee awareness of their environmental impact.

  2. Develop a plan. Hospitals should use the American Hospital Association's Sustainability Roadmap to identify targets and goals related to water, chemicals, energy, building design and waste, as well as specific performance improvement measures on subjects such as sustainable flooring and surgical lighting.

  3. Create a "culture of responsibility." Reducing a facility's environmental footprint "takes a village," so hospitals should consider using an Environmentally Preferred Purchase Program to provide an infrastructure for creating employee consensus and participation in reduction efforts.

A report last April found sustainability efforts lowered costs and improved patient outcomes at nearly 400 hospitals, FierceHealthcare previously reported.

To learn more:
- here's the article
- check out the study abstract
- read the 2012 study (.pdf)