Healthcare News & Insights

Going green: Strategies for your hospital to become more sustainable

136303664Have you ever thought about making your hospital’s operations more environmentally friendly? Making the effort to “go green” could be very beneficial to your facility.

Hospitals as a whole have a fairly significant impact on their surrounding environment, according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Each day, the nation’s hospitals generate close to 7,000 tons of infectious, hazardous and toxic waste.

And hospitals also affect the environment because of several other factors, including:

  • mercury use in medical devices and equipment
  • use of other materials with potential toxic effects (such as cleaning materials, batteries and pesticides)
  • energy consumption
  • greenhouse gas emissions, and
  • water usage.

Guidelines for going green

While it may seem daunting to revamp your hospital to become more sustainable, there are several ways hospitals can reduce their environmental footprints.

Amerinet, a consulting firm that helps hospitals reduce costs while improving quality, has five steps hospitals can follow to become more green:

  1. Go local with food choices. Cafeterias in hospitals serve hundreds of people per day, and the source of their food can have a dramatic effect on a hospital’s environmental impact. By contracting with vendors that rely on locally grown fresh produce, hospitals can minimize gasoline consumption required to ship and refrigerate fruits and veggies from distant locations. Hospitals can also work with local composting companies to haul away food waste that can be used as fertilizer in sustainable farming.
  2. Look into ways to conserve water. One hospital, Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, saved over 6 million gallons of water per year by replacing a linear accelerator (used in radiation therapy) with a better model; replacing washroom toilets, faucets and showers with water-efficient alternatives; and purchasing high-efficiency dishwashers. On a large scale, less water per flush or shower can make a big difference in water consumption.
  3. Save energy. Reducing energy use and carbon output is particularly tricky for hospitals, but not impossible. Connecticut’s Greenwich Hospital saved over 1.7 million kWh and $303,000 of electricity per year, and reduced its overall energy consumption by 35%. How? The hospital reprogrammed its heating and cooling plants, re-engineered its air handling systems and upgraded its light bulbs, among other changes. And this investment paid for itself – Greenwich Hospital made back its money within six months.
  4. Change waste disposal protocols. Because hospitals produce so much waste, disposing of it in an environmentally friendly way can be challenging. For example, regulated medical waste has to be disinfected before going to the landfill. Disinfection methods like incineration are both energy intensive and known to release noxious fumes. But processes like autoclaving, chemical treatment and microwaving can be more eco-friendly. Ask the company behind your disinfection process about its energy and chemical use, and consider switching if you can find a greener provider.
  5. Practice chemical safety. Dozens of chemicals used in a hospital can be dangerous under the right conditions, but there are some surprising culprits. LCD displays, fluorescent lamps, CRT monitors, flame-retardant mattresses, wheelchair cushions and even baby bottles can contain hazardous chemicals if you buy them from the wrong manufacturer. For your hospital, you can improve chemical safety by making conscious purchasing decisions and recycling toxic goods, like batteries, properly.

And the EPA has some tips hospitals can follow for a greener existence:

  • Revamp your entire supply chain to be more sustainable. Work with vendors to ensure that all products your hospital purchases are as environmentally friendly as possible, from medical supplies to printer paper.
  • Make renovations and upgrades greener. When making renovations or building new facilities, consider following federal Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) standards.
  • Change your landscaping techniques. Switching to green landscaping techniques using native plants can help your hospital better manage storm water drainage, reducing waste. Also, incorporating more green space into your hospital’s campus is a sustainability practice that can also improve its appearance.

Long-term savings

Going green may be seen as a costly endeavor for hospitals, which may cause them to put sustainability on the back burner. But this may not be the case. In fact, it could actually save hospitals money in the long run.

Recently, the Commonwealth Fund released a study stating that if all hospitals in the country became more sustainable, after five years, it would save more than $5 billion.

And going green becomes even more cost effective over time: In 10 years, hospitals could save over $15 billion.

The study looked at several hospitals that had already incorporated more sustainable practices. Overall, researchers said, hospitals saved the most money by coming up with changes that combined waste reduction with reduction of energy use.

So going green has the potential to not only help the Earth, but improve your bottom line. That’s why it’s worthwhile to take a long, hard look at your hospital’s processes to see if there’s any way to make them more eco-friendly.

 

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