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Green Hospital Supply Chains Get New Focus from Industry Group

<p>Taking a cue from Kaiser, advocacy group Practice Greenhealth began a program today to help the healthcare industry build environmental values into the way medical supplies are purchased.</p>

Taking a cue from Kaiser's efforts to green its supply chain, advocacy group Practice Greenhealth began a broad effort today to help the healthcare industry build environmental values into the way medical supplies are purchased.

Practice Greenhealth launched the Greening the Supply Chain Initiative, which aims to create a vibrant marketplace for "environmentally preferable" products in the healthcare industry.

The organization says it will "provide a common set of tools for purchasers, suppliers and manufacturers" to incorporate an environmental perspective when evaluating products of all types used in the sector.

Practice Greenhealth is a nonprofit with more than 1,100 members representing 20 percent of the U.S. healthcare market. The group's Greening the Supply Chain Initiative intends to bring together manufacturer, supplier and buyer representatives to develop a set of industry-specific, standard questions based on the Kaiser Permanente Sustainability Scorecard.

The Kaiser scorecard covers all medical products and equipment used in hospitals, medical offices and other facilities operated by organizations devoted to healthcare.

Practice Greenhealth says the new initiative will build on its Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Supporter Program, which works with group purchasing organizations in the healthcare industry responsible for buying more than $110 billion in healthcare-related products from gauze and office supplies to building materials and IT infrastructure. The results of that effort include a database of environmental criteria for healthcare products. That database will help inform the questionnaire created by the new initiative, according to the organization.

Interest by the healthcare sector in environmentally preferable purchasing programs has grown in recent years. But the path to a green healthcare system isn't as easy to find as the color-coded lines in hospitals that direct patients to various departments.

With literally hundreds, if not thousands, of eco-labels purporting to define the environmental attributes of just about any product on the market, it can be impossible for a hospital purchasing department with a new directive to enact green purchasing standards to make the right decisions. Additionally, suppliers that have been doing things the same way for years are not always able to understand new requirements or fully answer questions about manufacturing processes and sourcing.

One of the goals of the Greening the Supply Chain Initiative is to help make the path toward environmentally preferable purchasing easier to follow. For example, a common perception is that greener products often cost more than their conventional counterparts. The initiative's organizers are hoping not only to reduce any upfront cost by increasing demand for greener products, but also to help buyers understand the potential ROI of choosing environmentally preferable products.

When it's complete, the initiative's standardized questions are not meant to be used as a certification, but rather to help medical purchasing departments make their own decisions in their own way about the environmental attributes of any product, the organization says. Practice Greenhealth says it hopes the questionnaire will become the industry standard for product evaluation.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user gloucester2gaza.

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