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Greening of health care starts with suppliers

When it comes to business operations, health is often approached from the perspectives of productivity, risk mitigation and ensuring regulatory compliance.

But what about the role of supply chain sanitation and healthy work conditions in advancing a company’s sustainability goals?

At the recent CleanMed Conference in Portland, Ore., I was asked to present a talk on behalf of GOJO, the inventor and global producer of Purell Hand Sanitizer. Health care is already one of our largest markets, so we decided before the conference to solicit questions from those in attendance to directly address misconceptions about hand hygiene and the critical role that good hygiene plays in reducing Healthcare Associated Infections (HAIs).

The session generated strong engagement, and its end brought with it more questions. Those interactions with industry professionals, sustainability directors, infection control practitioners and group purchasing organization (GPO) sustainability leaders helped me see how the concept of green is evolving in health care.

What really stood out to me is the great opportunity we have to drive positive change as suppliers of the health care industry.

As suppliers to medical providers, we really do have the chance to make positive change by transitioning from suppliers to partners. We have the experience, and collectively we have the knowledge, to lead the health care industry on its journey to advance social, environmental and economic sustainability.

While product innovation to meet sustainability challenges is a critical first step, we also must transparently educate, communicate and collaborate to meet the evolving needs of health care champions accountable for improving sustainability performance.

Where health meets sustainability

Industry-wide, hospitals and health care organizations already are implementing strategies to proactively prevent health complications such as infections. What is not being discussed, however, are the overall sustainability benefits of addressing health risks.

Consider the following impacts:

  • Social: 99,000 people die annually due to HAIs in the U.S. alone
  • Environmental: Preventable infections consume significant resources and generate extra waste
  • Economic: HAIs cost more than $9 billion in health care bills annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control

With those numbers alone, we see real triple bottom line challenges. Still, decreasing those impacts is not an insurmountable task — if we can encourage a concerted effort by suppliers to work within health care to educate those responsible at every level on the sustainability impacts of HAIs and other health risks.

Infections are just one of many significant issues that could be addressed head-on if we ramped up our conversations with customers and brought more transparency into the supplier dialogue.

For instance, increased understanding that the concept of green products varies from category to category provides leading sustainability-minded suppliers an opportunity to help define what green really means for the health care industry.

We also can save our customers’ valuable time spent researching products, sustainability benefits and material composition by proactively providing this information in user-friendly formats before they have to ask the questions.

Finally, the trend toward establishing sustainability scorecards and implementing Environmental Purchasing Policies is creating a need for the identification of relevant metrics for target product categories tied to sustainability outcomes.

With the potential to reduce waste, improve health outcomes and lower costs, I, for one, am all for a new approach. Who’s with me?

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