Sustainability tips for hospitals

Green practices haven't been a top concern due to increased financial pressures

Knowledge@Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania’s online business analysis journal, recently released a special report exploring the idea of sustainability in hospital purchasing. The results demonstrate the cost-effectiveness of such efforts for hospitals.

Keith Sutter, a contributor to the report and senior product director for sustainable brand marketing at Johnson & Johnson, explained that while the healthcare industry recognizes the need to reduce its impact on the environment, sustainability isn’t always a high priority among the decision makers at individual U.S. hospitals. More pointedly, sustainability hasn’t been a top concern among hospital leaders in part because of increased financial pressures due to healthcare reform.

Yet the savings from sustainable practices in healthcare could, according to one recent survey, total $15 billion over 10 years.

Sutter and Joanne Spigonardo, senior associate director at Wharton’s Initiative for Global Environmental Leadership (IGEL), shared a few of their tips for introducing sustainability into hospitals with Healthcare Finance News. They are convinced sustainable practices can reduce costs for healthcare facilities in the long term.

  1. Establish priorities
    Sutter said it’s often hard for hospitals and other healthcare organizations to figure out what can be done first, or what is the most important step to take, when it comes to sustainability. “The first aspect is to really establish your priorities,” he said.
  2. Purchasing preferences
    “There are so many elements to a hospital’s cost structure and how to fit in ways to be sustainability and save costs," Sutter said. He recommends hospitals "think broadly." For instance, "in the realm of purchasing preferences, reduced packaging and reusability might be a first step.”
  3. Targeting supply chain metrics
    Spigonardo said one major priority for hospitals could be developing sustainability metrics for supply-chain management. Hosptials can develop metrics, then implement them by identifying and prioritizing greener purchases, such as energy-efficient medical imaging machines. Another metric might be the ultimate phasing out of toxic and hazardous substances and cleaning products.
  4. Waste reduction & local sourcing
    Two other important and achievable aspects of sustainability in healthcare include reducing waste through recycling programs and reduced packaging, and improving the quality of hospital food service by increasing access to locally-sourced and sustainably grown meal options, Spigonardo said.
  5. Physicial plant energy consumption
    Sutter added that one of his major tips for hospitals is to work on reducing energy consumption through green building construction and retrofits, smart lighting strategies such as use of LEDs, effective energy management, and looking into renewable resources such as solar and wind. Energy conservation programs could result in 20 to 30 percent reductions in annual bills.

“Overall, healthcare leaders should stay plugged into best practices, be aware of new case studies, and join healthcare sustainability organizations to share and learn about what other hospitals are doing," Sutter said. "It’s a great opportunity to learn and share best practices."