Hospital leadership support crucial in going green

Hospitals embracing sustainability, such as recycling programs, food management and other waste-reduction initiatives, require a commitment from the top, according to yesterday's report by the Health Care Research Collaborative.

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates the healthcare industry spent more than $6.5 billion on energy, surpassing all other service industries with the exception of transportation, the report noted. And healthcare facilities generate 5 million tons of solid waste each year--5 percent of which is hazardous, the report added.

As often the largest employer in their areas, hospitals can have a dramatic impact on their communities in terms of environmental footprint. But successful sustainability efforts require an executive champion or advocate, sustainability values reflected in the company mission, and solid performance measurement systems to monitor and track sustainability activities.

"The report found that leadership engagement and incorporation of sustainability as a high-level goal was key to the success of the program," said report author Tonya Boone.

Executive level leadership can secure resources for sustainability activities, advocate for sustainability within and outside of the organization, remove institutional barriers and oversee the activities, according to the Health Care Research Collaborative.

For example, Kaiser Permanente, which saved $26 million in annual savings with its environmentally preferable purchasing program, has made environmental stewardship part of its core values. Since the 1990s, some of the Kaiser hospitals have "green teams." Kaiser's chief energy officer, as well as an environmental supply chain manager and sustainable food program manager, measure performance and implemented a sustainability scorecard for assessing medical equipment suppliers and products.

At Cleveland Clinic, the senior director for sustainability and environmental strategy, who leads the green team, reports directly to the chief operating officer. With "aggressive key goals," as the report called them, the Clinic tracks performance metrics on waste, energy, water, food and building that goes to the chief operating officer and a portion of the report to the CEO.

"... [S]ustainability is a strategic business proposition for the healthcare sector," Gary Cohen, president of Health Care Without Harm, said in an statement yesterday.

For more information:
- here's the announcement
- check out the report (.pdf)

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