About the author: Iqbal Mian manages a portfolio of health care members and develops content and resources on energy conservation, quality and other topics. He spoke at the recent 3M Sustainability in Health Care Summit, an annual event that brings together thought leaders to share best practices and help attendees identify new ways to secure economic, social and environmental benefits from sustainability programs.
The Healthier Hospitals Initiative encourages hospitals to build a more sustainable business model to help reduce the environmental impacts of the health care industry.
Healthier Hospitals initiatives typically encompass:
- Generating less waste.
- Reducing the use of energy, and water and other natural resources.
- Avoiding environmental harm from substances including chemicals.
- Instituting practices such as sourcing sustainable food.
In addition to promoting health care sustainability, a Healthier Hospital yields other benefits for patients, clinicians and health care leadership.
The average hospital generates 29 pounds of waste per staffed bed per day1 contributing to a whopping total of 5.9 million tons of waste per year.1 Because waste has to go somewhere, reducing waste and ramping up recycling benefit not only the hospital, but the community the hospital serves. Recycling can even have a pay-off: Beaumont collected $866,000 in recycling rebates by diverting 13 million pounds of waste from landfills over a 5-year period.3
Responsible disposal can also contribute to community health by helping avoid impact on natural resources, for example, the introduction of pharmaceuticals into drinking water.2
Hospitals use 2.5 times more energy per square foot than other commercial buildings, for an annual combined energy spend of $8.5 billion.4 Increasing efficiencies in areas like heating, lighting and water use yield expense savings and decrease a hospital’s environmental footprint.
Even obvious changes, such as swapping out light fixtures, can have a significant impact. By replacing light fixtures, Tenet was able to decrease energy consumption at one system hospital by 57%.5
Hospitals are also high water users. The average hospital uses 250,000–700,000 gallons per bed per year.4 Reducing water usage reduces utility costs, including the energy and wastewater treatment cost associated with water use. Targeted initiatives, like reducing laundry, are a good place to start. Through laundry efficiencies, Intermountain Healthcare was able to conserve 17 million gallons of water.6
Healthier conditions for patients and clinicians
Chemical exposure has been linked to a range of health problems, yet more chemicals are used in health care than in any other sector.7 Switching to safer chemicals, including green cleaning options, means less chemical exposure for both patients and health care workers.
Support for healthy behaviors
Other Healthier Hospital initiatives such as a sustainable food program contribute to health care sustainability. Sourcing locally and sustainability grown food, and changing the quality and quantity of meat served can contribute to healthier meals. And because diet is linked to numerous health conditions, serving healthier meals helps improve the health of patients — as well as health care workers who eat at the hospital.
Sustainable food also serves another purpose: antimicrobial stewardship. 80% of all antibiotics consumed in the U.S. are fed to livestock, a factor that’s contributed to antibiotic resistance. Sustainable options can help reverse that trend.8
Take the Sustainability in Hospitals webinar at 3M Health Care Academy to learn the basics of establishing a healthy hospital program.
1 Practice Greenhealth, Less Waste. Accessed August 31, 2016. https://practicegreenhealth.org/topics/less-waste
2 World Health Organization. Water Sanitation Health. Accessed August 31, 2016. http:// http://www.who.int/water_sanitation_health/publications/pharmaceuticals-in-drinking-water/en/
3 Beaumont. Sustainability Report. 2015.
4 Gerwig, Kathy. Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet. Oxford University Press, August 2014.
5 Tenet. Sustainability Report. 2014.
6 Intermountain Healthcare. Sustainability Report. 2014.
7 Healthier Hospitals Initiative. Safer Chemicals. Accessed August 31, 2016. http://healthierhospitals.org/hhi-challenges/safer-chemicals.
8 Healthier Hospitals Initiative. Healthier Food. Accessed August 31, 2016. http://healthierhospitals.org/hhi-challenges/healthier-food.