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Hospitals 'Going Green'

Healthcare settings are increasing methods of sustainability

Although Earth Day (April 22) is celebrated but once a year, environmental sustainability in hospital settings is an issue faced each day. While tending to patients 24/7 is a necessary function of these facilities, according to Florida Tech, the average patient produces approximately 10 pounds of medical garbage per day, demonstrating a need for increased "green" initiatives.1

In addition to medical garbage, hospitals' resource intensiveness, critical infrastructure and endless operation typically require copious amounts of energy for ventilation, heating and cooling, and to operate devices such as CT and MRI scanners. Hazardous materials, including cleaning products and radioactive isotopes; as well as healthcare byproducts, such as bedding, bandages, blood, needles, lancets, infectious "red bag" waste and other items that cannot be disposed of, are also known to cause harmful effects on the environment.

Innovative Solutions
In order to minimalize the environmental impacts of these products, many healthcare organizations have developed strategic partnerships with sustainability experts to create action plans to identify and resolve inefficiencies. Ultimately, sustainability programs should reflect a facility's distinctive needs and individualities.

The main areas within hospital settings that typically require environmental improvements include waste and energy reduction, water conservancy, supply chain competence, and retro-commissioning management. In terms of waste reduction, this process encompasses diverting waste from landfills through recycling, source reduction, reuse, repurposing and composting.

Determining ways to cut down on energy use is also imperative to attain a more sustainable facility because it can lessen its ecological footprint while vastly lowering hospital expenses. According to IceCOLD, an environmentally focused synthetic catalyst company, a hospital's main energy cost is lighting, comprising 43% of the total cost of energy consumption at $8.8 billion each year.2

To cut down on this energy use, hospitals often consider implementing deep energy retrofit, a whole-building analysis and construction process that uses "integrative design" to achieve much larger energy savings than conventional energy modifications. If well-planned and executed, these retrofits can generate significantly more value than the energy cost savings. They can also improve the overall air quality of the hospital and introduce more daylight into patient rooms.

Products and purchasing decisions can further impact a facility's effectiveness in arriving at sustainability. According to, a full 79% of U.S. healthcare providers agree that it makes financial sense to choose sustainable options, with 67% reporting strong backing from top hospital management for their green initiatives.3 

"I think at the highest level in healthcare, there are many initiatives designed to improve operational impacts and institute environmental purchasing policies. Looking at procuring products from office supplies to energy-efficient products and less toxic products, reducing negative human health and environmental impact are key drivers and valued in hospitals embracing sustainability," commented Nicole Koharik, global sustainability marketing director at GOJO Industries, a manufacturer of hand hygiene and skin care products. "We see a lot of activity and interest in better chemical space and products."

Natural Remedies
Aside from building infrastructure, technological components and products, being able to offer "green" treatment options can also enhance patient satisfaction. Examples of such treatments are healing gardens to connect people to nature, places of respite (generally connected to nature because of its proven health benefits) and access to healthy food.

Some hospitals are also using therapeutic-grade essential oils in their emergency room to boost productivity and health. This treatment option has been used in cancer wards, hospices, and other areas where patients are critically ill and require palliative care for pain, nausea, lymphedema, stress, anxiety and depression.4

"One of the reasons essential oils have such a beneficial impact on the body is that smell is the only sense where receptor nerve endings are in direct contact with the outside world. When we inhale, the neural impulses go directly to the limbic system," explained Christoph Streicher, PhD, owner of Amrita Aromatherapy Inc. an in Fairfield, Iowa. "The limbic system connects to all other parts of the brain and in particular to the thalamus and hypothalamus, from where our whole endocrine system is controlled."

By understanding the strategic importance of environmental sustainability, hospitals and care systems across the nation are able to work on improving community health, building their public image, streamlining facility operations and improving financial performance. Through making an active commitment to pursuing environmental sustainability goals, strategic benefits can be achieved that help a facility to truly thrive.

"The question remains as to whether health systems approach "greening" initiatives holistically, with the long-term business imperative in mind, or whether these activities remain siloed efforts driven by passionate champions without the budget or decision-making authority to catalyze enterprise-wide change," stressed Garrett M. Kephart, sustainability and resource productivity practice leader at Point B Inc. in Seattle, Wash. "In order to achieve the most traction, the most successful environmental sustainability efforts will be led by, or be in partnership with, the finance organization in any health system. That remains - more often than not - the exception, rather than the rule, at this point in the evolution of healthcare sustainability."

Lindsey Nolen is a staff writer at ADVANCE. Contact:

1. Florida Tech. Going Green: Sustainability for Healthcare Management.

2. IceCOLD. Energy Efficiency in Hospitals.

3. Buildings. Use of Sustainable Products Spreads in Hospitals.

4. National Cancer Institute. Aromatherapy and Essential Oils-Health Professional Version (PDQ®).

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