hospitals save energy increase sustainability

How hospitals save energy, save money, save lives

There’s one big reason hospitals are rapidly moving to the forefront of environmental sustainability – those efforts can make this economically-challenged sector more financially sustainable.

New efficiencies save energy, significantly cut costs

This movement is not being led by environmentalists, but by hard-nosed (and creative) hospital CFOs and administrators. Their first target has been the energy costs that represent some 51% of the average hospital’s operating expenses.

Practice Greenhealth, an industry group promoting environmental stewardship, points out that almost every institution can immediately go after the “common sense savings” measures, such as reducing heat and air conditioning in operating rooms when they’re not in use (for an average annual cost savings of $45,000), or replacing traditional operating room bulbs with LED lights (a $3,000 reduction). Overall, they say their member hospitals, some 22% of those in the United States, see an average total savings of one million dollars annually.

Some leading hospitals are taking a much deeper look at their environmental impact and how addressing it can cut their costs. The Boston Medical Center analyzed its entire campus for unused or underutilized space, and then executed a comprehensive redesign, lowering the square footage it has to heat, cool and maintain, while increasing its patient capacity by 20%. And the Gunderson Health System in Wisconsin was America’s first to actually produce more energy than it consumes, by reducing consumption while at the same time employing unconventional energy sources such as wind, wood chips and even cow manure. Their savings have been as much as three million dollars a year, and their emissions of carbon monoxide, particulate matter and mercury have dropped 95%.

Environmental stewardship is the hot new patient amenity

Those are the kind of environmental impact numbers that increasingly matter to patients as they pick healthcare providers. Younger consumers in particular carry their purchasing criteria across categories, looking for “good value and shared values.” Eighty-eight percent of Americans say they’re more likely to do business with organizations that demonstrate a social or environmental benefit. This social-benefit bias is only going to increase as the younger generations age-in to being heavy users of healthcare.

A recent survey of hospital patients specifically found that, of those who noticed sustainability practices, 94% reported a positive patient experience, and 86% said they would return to that hospital. The key qualifier here, however, is “of those who noticed.” Installing more efficient light bulbs, automating operating room temperatures or auditing your facility’s space usage may go largely unnoticed by patients, so hospitals need to promote and a communicate their environmental efforts to receive the full benefit.

Sustainability improves the dual bottom line

Hospital performance, of course, always gets tallied in two columns: patient health and institutional health. The cost savings from enhanced sustainability efforts can contribute significantly to lowering patient expenses and also improving patient care. Relationship savings, such as enhanced patient loyalty, can be tracked directly to new hospital revenue. Greenhealth magazine reports that “effective management of patient loyalty could potentially mean nearly $4 million in revenue for a typical hospital.”

So, what plans are in place to sustain your hospital via environmental sustainability?

Sustainable Brands: How Healthcare is Pushing Sustainability
Greenhealth: Sustainability and Patient Experience
Kaiser Health News: Energy-Hog Hospitals: When They Start Thinking Green