How Can Healthcare Systems Reduce Their Environmental Footprint?

When it comes to environmental impact, the healthcare industry has an undeniable footprint. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the healthcare industry, which comprises approximately 16% of the national and regional economy, includes hospitals that generate approximately 7,000 tons per day of waste, consume large amounts of energy and water, and use materials that may have toxic effects.

The impact may be high, but the need is also great. Surgical procedures, diagnostics and even stitches require high-tech equipment, special supplies, sanitizing materials and plenty of energy. And, with hospitals being open 24-7, it’s an operation that never takes a break.

So what’s the answer to reducing the environmental footprint of the healthcare industry? How can we reduce hospital energy use and waste, use safer chemicals, and encourage wellness among our patients?

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) is working to reduce the environmental and financial impact of health care and support wellness and prevention initiatives. Founded by some of the oldest and largest healthcare systems in the United States, HHI has created a guide for hospitals to reduce energy and waste, choose safer and less toxic products, and purchase and serve healthier foods. Participating hospitals contribute data to the collaborative effort to help measure the impact of the effort over time.

Hospitals enrolled in HHI may choose to participate in any of six key challenges, including:

  • Engaged leadership
  • Healthier food
  • Leaner energy
  • Less waste
  • Safe chemicals
  • Smarter purchasing

The initiative could mean a healthier planet with healthier people, not to mention the reduction of overall healthcare cost.

A 2012 study sponsored by HHI and Health Care Without Harm concluded that sustainability practices were well worth the financial investment. In fact, the study showed that efforts by nine hospitals/health systems to develop more environmentally sustainable operations resulted in significant savings over the span of five years.

Currently, eight ProMedica hospitals have enrolled in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative and have committed to engaging leadership in sustainability initiatives, providing healthy food options to patients and visitors, reducing energy use and waste, and using safer chemicals.   ProMedica Fostoria Community Hospital most recently joined the effort.

“Our mission is to improve the health and well-being of the community,” said Holly Bristoll, president of ProMedica Fostoria Community Hospital.  “Part of that mission includes cultivating a healthier community through environmental responsibility. By joining the Healthier Hospitals Initiative we have a road map to reducing the hospital’s impact on the environment and providing a model for healthier behaviors for the community.”

How are you saving energy, reducing waste or incorporating healthier behaviors in your day-to-day routine at home or in the workplace?