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How going green saves Kaiser $26 million annually

<p>Greener health care products means healthier patients and fuller prockets for hospitals.</p>

U.S. health care facilities produce more than 5.9 million tons of waste every year, according to one estimate; another suggests hospitals account for about 8 percent of greenhouse gas emissions caused by human activity.

Fortunately, the healthcare industry in four countries is paying increasing attention to sustainable products and best practices, a new study commissioned by Johnson & Johnson shows. The non-blind research study conducted by SK&A surveyed "key decision-makers" within institutional delivery networks and hospitals in Brazil, Germany, Italy and the United States, where  health care spending is expected to make up 18 percent of the GDP by 2020.

“Our research already shows that green attributes are a top driver in health care purchasing decisions, but now we have experts shedding more light on the business case for sustainable products and practices,” said Al Iannuzzi, senior director, worldwide environment, health and safety at Johnson & Johnson.  “While the global health care sector has made advancements in addressing sustainability issues, there’s ample opportunity to create more sustainable health care practices around the world.”

Almost half the hospitals surveyed in Brazil and Germany reported switching suppliers for more sustainable options, compared with a quarter of hospitals in Italy and the United States. Suppliers like Johnson & Johnson and Zimmer are responding by, for example, including sustainability considerations earlier in the R&D and product development processes, or by choosing surgical solutions that involve reprocessing (a way of sterilizing and recycling used instruments).

Photo of 3d green medical sign on a white background provided by maxcreatnz

Hospitals are especially interested in becoming greener in areas such as energy efficiency, sustainable energy, toxin elimination, waste reduction (especially packaging) and local food sourcing.

The study also includes insights and perspectives provided by Practice Greenhealth, a U.S.-based nonprofit that encourages environmental best practices in health care; and Healthcare Without Harm, an international coalition group promoting the health of people and the environment.

Adopting sustainability measures is appealing because doing so offers a direct return on investment: The western U.S. health care system Dignity Health saved $5.6 million last year just by purchasing reusable products. Kaiser Permanente has also created an Environmental Preference Program and a Sustainability Scorecard, which helps the company evaluate and select products without harmful chemicals. Both initiatives combined are estimmated to save the company $26 million annually.

Greener products also often result in healthier outcomes for the patient. Kaiser Permanente, for example, switched to catheters that decrease patient exposure to di-ethylhexyl phthalates (DEHP) during dialysis treatment and reduce dioxin emissions associated with PVC processing.

Compared to nurses, physicians and engineers, purchasing and materials management groups within hospital organizations were reported as being most interested in sustainable health care products. Often, purchasing groups are not sustainability experts. Suppliers should therefore make choosing sustainable products as easy as possible by directly engaging with and educating purchasers on the value of sustainable products, said Christina Vernon, executive sustainability officer at the U.S.-based Cleveland Clinic.

Other key findings include:

  • 54 percent of hospitals say green attributes are very important in their purchasing decisions
  • 40 percent of hospitals expect their future RFPs to include questions/criteria regarding green attributes of products
  • 85 percent of hospitals rate being free of heavy metals and latex, end-of-life solutions and energy efficiency as important attributes
  • 35 percent of hospitals switched suppliers due to additional green/sustainable product offerings
  • In order of most important to least important sustainability attribute, the United States reported these rankings: (1) latex-free, (2) heavy metal-free, (3) energy efficient, (4) synthetic chemicals-free and (5) PVC-free.

The paper provided case studies of how key suppliers are raising standards for green products in the healthcare industry.

Johnson & Johnson  established a process called Earthwards, which uses lifecycle evaluation in the development and marketing of greener products. Every Earthwards-recognized product must achieve a greater than 10 percent improvement in at least three of seven areas: materials used, packaging, energy, waste, water, social benefit and innovation. One Johnson & Johnson Company, Ortho Clinical Diagnostics, launched a new generation of its VITROS 3600 Immunodiagnostic System, which runs clinical blood tests in hospital labs. The new generation of the system achieved a 13 percent reduction in energy and 80 percent reduction in liquid waste generated during use.

BD and Waste Management developed he BD ecoFinity Life Cycle Solution, which enables hospitals for the first time to safely and economically recycle single-use medical sharps (syringes, needles), which make up a large part of the medical waste stream and often end up in landfills or incinerators. BD's solution takes recovered plastics and develops them into new sharps collector products, creating a closed-loop recycling solution. It is expected that partiicipating hospitals can keep up to 70 percent of sharps waste out of landfills or incinerators.

For the last two years, Kimberly-Clark has investigated health care institutions' needs surrounding recycling of blue sterilization wrap for medical instruments. Earlier this year, the company launched Blue ReNew, a step-by- step program that helps hospitals formalize the process for recycling sterilization wrap. The Kimberly-Clark Blue ReNew Team works with hospitals to customize the program for each facility’s unique needs, identify recycling partners, train Operating Room teams and measure results to ensure the wrap recycling program can be sustained.

Ultimately, the health care system's growing concern about sustainability can improve patient health, slim down hospital expenses and reduce the industry's environmental impact. And growing concern means greater transparency.

“The idea of transparency will only become more important, and suppliers and hospitals around the world will be held accountable for impacts throughout the lifecycle of a product – from where it is produced and how it is used in the delivery of care, to how it is treated at end of use,” said Gary Cohen, President and Founder of Health Care Without Harm.

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