500-plus hospitals join forces to green the health care industry

A coalition of hospital and health care groups in the U.S. has written a detailed prescription on how to transform the industry by tackling waste, runaway energy consumption, lax supply chains and other major obstacles to sustainability.

The group, which collectively represents more than 500 hospitals, has also pledged to take its own medicine and will follow a six-point sustainability agenda that the coalition issued this week.

What's more, the group -- which is banding together in an effort called the Healthier Hospitals Initiative -- is looking to draw at least another 2,000 hospitals to the cause in the next three years. And the sponsoring health care companies and organizations behind the initiative are offering an array of free resources to any hospital that wishes to pursue the initiative.

"There really is no barrier to entry," said Gary Cohen, the founder and president of Health Care Without Harm and a moving force for the initiative. Like the resources that are available, registration is free, he said.

"It's just a matter of reaching out to hospitals," Cohen said. "And if there is an impediment, it's getting them to see that this is not an ancillary issue."

Sustainable operations are core to the health care industry, he and other advocates of the initiative say.

Hospitals are enormous consumers of energy and mountains of supplies ranging from gauze to sophisticated technology. They generate tons of waste, a good portion of which requires special handling. And many of the things used in the places that are intended to help heal the ill and the wounded contain substances that can be harmful to people's health. In short, hospitals can make people sicker, in addition to treading more heavily on an ailing planet.

Further, said Cohen, hospitals -- and the health care industry in general -- are focused chiefly on treatment rather than promoting behavior that supports wellness. In an era of soaring health care costs and rising incidences of treatment-intensive diseases such as cancer, obesity, diabetes and asthma, a treatment-focused strategy adds further stress to an overburdened health care system. Treatment for chronic diseases accounts for about 75 percent of health care costs, Cohen noted.

"It's no longer viable to focus only on treatment," Cohen said. "That's why we are we are inspired to build a national campaign to reinvent hospitals as community anchors for sustainability, health and prevention of disease."

The six focus areas of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative are:

  • Engaging hospital and health care leadership on environmental health and sustainability
  • Serving healthier foods and beverages
  • Reducing energy use
  • Reducing waste and increasing recycling
  • Using safer chemicals
  • Purchasing environmentally preferable products

Next Page: Curing an ailing supply chain