Expanding sustainability can better the bottom line in the long run

Environmental sustainability is not a passing fad. For as long as it’s been a hot-button topic, it shows no signs of subsiding. And like any other business, hospitals often feel the push to “Go Green.”

Meaningful environmental sustainability goes beyond implementing a few recycled products or using some EPA-approved cleaners. It’s a big commitment—one that requires strong leadership, vision and follow-through. It can also require a large and sometimes uncomfortable financial investment. However, the long-term benefits prove it as an investment worth making.

Some energy efficiency projects at hospitals have shown great success by simply reducing heating or cooling in unoccupied areas. Also, purchasing ENERGY STAR office equipment or getting LEED certification has gained many a hospital public approval. At the same time, healthcare leaders have been cautious about energy savings in areas like operating rooms where high-efficiency light bulbs don’t produce the right amount of light surgeons require to perform surgeries.

Overall, with lighting representing more than 10 percent of energy consumed by hospitals, healthcare facilities have the opportunity to pay a little more upfront by switching to all LED lighting, for bigger savings in the long run. For example, Wentworth-Douglass Hospital in Dover, New Hampshire is saving $45,000 each year with energy-efficient lighting and controls in conference rooms and garages. St Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown, Maryland switched to an energy-efficient platform that paid off with an annual savings of $20,000 annually.

Water—healthy water—is vital to protecting a patient’s health and the way a hospital functions. In the U.S. large hospitals consumed an estimated 133 billion gallons of water in 2007, or $615 million in costs. Healthcare leaders making decisions on conserving water, should also always consider the quality and availability of clean water at all times. Part of making that decision is installing cutting edge water technologies that prevent the spread of infection like low-flow faucets, showerheads and toilets. It also means managing and removing pipe leaks, reducing water usage during laundry, and insulating hot water system equipment and piping. The initial cost of these installations and maintenance will reap financial and sustainable rewards over time.

The Huntington Veterans Affairs Medical Center in West Virginia replaced faucets and showerheads at their facility in 2007 in an effort to save more than 1.5 million gallons of water per year. While the program cost less than $3,500 to implement, a low-cost investment that saw returns in only two months, saves the hospital $12,900 in water and sewer costs annually, and an additional $7,200 in energy savings from reduced hot water consumption.

Making sustainable purchasing decisions that involve maintenance, patient care, packaging, operations and more, can particularly benefit the way a hospital is perceived by its patients. For example, in 2006, Kaiser Permanente decided to be more energy-efficient by switching to environmentally friendly computers that were manufactured with fewer toxic materials. While the initial cost was comparable to that of other computers, the residual energy savings of $4 million annually, was well worth it.

Other ways hospitals can effectively implement sustainable supply chain projects is by reducing packaging waste and the number of hazardous chemicals that enter the hospital, reprocessing approved single-use medical devices, recycling fluorescent lighting, and picking reusable textiles for drapes, gowns, and towels.

Let’s not forget about waste management and how it can significantly help hospitals expand their green efforts. Everything from creating and elevating waste and battery recycling programs to minimizing regulated medical waste generation while improving handling and disposal costs, demonstrates the value of employing waste management projects in hospitals. In fact, when Sacred Heart Hospital in Eau Claire, Wisconsin switched to reusable sharps container in 2008, it saved 40,000 pounds of waste being generated annually, and the hospital itself saved approximately five percent of its sharps container costs.

These sustainability efforts and others, have a significant impact on the way the public regards hospitals. Patients and the community can further appreciate the hospital’s determination to develop and grow facilities that are more environmentally friendly and less wasteful.

Health Research & Educational Trust (May 2014), Environmental Sustainability In Hospitals: The Value of Efficiency. Retrieved from www.hpoe.org/environmentalsustainability