Sustainability is becoming a standard practice at companies across various industries here in the United States and around the world, and the health care sector is no different. As we saw at last month’s CleanMed Conference and Exposition in Boston, Mass., there is continued and growing interest in the intersection between sustainability and health care. A poll that surveyed top US and global representatives from hospitals and health care systems during the April conference shows that more than 87 percent of hospitals are incorporating sustainability into their decision-making process and operations.
Johnson & Johnson and Practice Greenhealth conducted the poll to better understand the changing role of sustainability in health care. And with more than 900 hospital administrators and other health care professionals attending the conference, what better place to tap into what they are thinking and planning for the future?
Show me the money: Financial concerns a key sustainability priority
Many hospitals and clinics are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, so it’s not surprising that the industry has a large environmental footprint. Costs associated with the energy consumed and waste generated continue to increase, which is an obvious priority for hospital administrators. The survey findings reveal that the health care industry is expanding its definition of “bottom line” to include sustainability. Ninety percent of those surveyed said their hospital had increased investments in sustainability initiatives from 2011 to 2012.
The financial impacts of sustainability are of key concern to administrators when it comes to prioritizing how they go about greening their hospitals and organizations. In fact, 37 percent of hospital administrators polled said “reducing overall operational costs” is their highest priority. More specifically, hospital administrators cited energy usage (37 percent), products and supplies (28 percent), and waste disposal (22 percent) as key areas of focus when it comes to reducing operational costs. Hospitals also say decreasing waste (33 percent) and creating a greener, healthier environment for patients (22 percent) are other priorities of their sustainability strategies.
One example of cost savings as a result of waste reduction can be seen in the partnership between Practice Greenhealth members Kaiser Permanente (KP) and Becton Dickinson (BD). Through its Strategic Supplier Development program, KP encourages suppliers to propose environmental initiatives that benefit KP and the communities it serves. BD identified three projects to reduce the amount of waste going to landfills through product design, packaging changes and use of recycled content. These projects helped KP divert 276 tons of materials from landfills and save $7 million in associated waste management costs in 2011.
Greener products blaze a trail for more sustainable health care
Twenty percent of respondents report they invested more than $1 million in sustainability initiatives in 2012, including the purchase of sustainable products. This mirrors the findings of a 2012 Johnson & Johnson white paper, The Growing Importance of More Sustainable Products in the Global Health Care Industry. In this study, more than half of hospitals (54 percent) cited green attributes as very important in their purchasing decisions, and 40 percent expect their future request for proposals to include sustainability criteria for the products they purchase.
One example of this is an initiative at Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming, Mich., which focuses on purchasing greener medical devices to help save money, increase recycling rates and reduce waste. Through the purchase of reprocessed single-use devices from Sterilmed, a Johnson & Johnson company, between 2008 and 2010, Metro Health saved more than $235,000 and avoided nearly two tons of waste, as well as reduced costs associated with disposing regulated medical waste.
Reframing sustainability as an opportunity
Another factor that can affect the bottom line is climate change. While the data shows that hospitals are taking steps in a greener direction, the poll reveals that the majority of hospitals (80 percent) haven’t yet evaluated their risks related to climate change and, for now, sustainable operations remain a focus.
For those health care administrators who have yet to consider sustainability as a factor in their operations and decision-making, we believe that they can no longer afford to push it to the back burner. These survey insights foreshadow that sustainability will only continue to become more strategically integrated into every department of hospitals and health care systems.
Image Credit: CC license by Andy G/Flickr