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Enhancing Sustainability through Responsible Supplier Partnerships

In most environmental preferable purchasing (EPP) programs, the policies primarily focus on the end product because that is easier to see, manipulate and control. However, even the “greenest” product is not really environmentally friendly if it is manufactured in a facility that wastes water and energy, transported in gas-guzzling vehicles and over-packaged as if expecting to be dropped from a 10-story building. Fortunately, most manufacturers realize both the environmental and cost benefits to be had from streamlining and greening their operations to continually improve their performance.

One way a health care organization’s EPP program should look at a supplier’s environmental impact is to examine how the product affects air, water and land in not only its manufacturing and distribution, but also its use and end of life impacts.

For air, manufacturing processes should minimize toxic air emissions through energy use reduction, alternative energy sources (low or no emission sources) and employ chemical emissions eliminations strategies. Transportation strategies should minimize related air pollution impacts through use of “smart” vehicles, vehicle maintenance, optional routing and load optimization. The use of the product pertains to indoor air quality: building products, materials that do not adversely impact indoor air quality and building systems that minimize air emissions. Products that at the end of life (disposal) should not negatively impact air quality (e.g., require incineration, direct emissions to air, landfill gases).

Water use in the manufacturing process refers to water use reduction and toxic effluent elimination, while preference should also be given to products that use less water (plumbing fixtures, cooling towers, etc.) and, finally, products that, when sewered or land filled, do not contribute to toxic effluent emissions (laboratory chemicals, pharmaceuticals, toxic chemicals).

For land, an organization should look at the use of resources and waste. Manufacturing processes should minimize the use of raw material extraction, toxic chemicals, and resources. Look for durable, reusable equipment when possible as well as products that are recyclable, and, when compared to alternatives, have a lesser impact at the end of life.

These are basic tenants of sustainable manufacturing; they are not always easy to identify, much less evaluate. At minimum, hospitals should look to their suppliers to:

–Publish a sustainability report

These should provide information about economic, environmental, social and governance performance. Many organizations are turning to the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) as a standard way of reporting corporate citizenship and sustainability activities. GRI will allow you to compare “apples to apples” on non-financial measures of company performance.

  • Recycle waste (a zero-waste manufacturing site is optimal and achievable)

Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources, and not burn or bury them.

  • Invest in renewable energy sources

These include solar, wind, rain, tides, and geothermal heat.

  • Incorporate recycled material in the product or at least the packaging.

In a 2011 survey, 81 percent of Novation contract suppliers indicated that they use at least some recycled content in their packaging.

SmartWay is a public/private collaboration between the USEPA and the freight transportation industry that helps freight shippers, carriers, and logistics companies improve fuel-efficiency and save money.

  • –Utilize EPEAT® certified computers and other IT equipment.

This is a comprehensive environmental rating that helps to identify greener computers and other electronic equipment for business, agency or organization, or for personal use.

  • Be able and willing to disclose the chemical contents of its products.

Until public policy requires that suppliers disclose the chemical content of their products, it is incumbent on the end-user to require such information. Novation collects information regarding the most common carcinogens and bio-toxic substances.

  • Have their own environmentally preferred purchasing (EPP) policy and procedure.

For example, at Novation, we advocate for eight sustainable practice principles and challenge our suppliers to live up to them. They are:

  1. Minimize packaging
  2. Use recycled and recyclable content in products and packaging
  3. Support device re-manufacturing
  4. Disclose all information regarding the chemical and material composition of products and reduce the use of materials of concern
  5. Reduce the amount of energy and water in manufacturing and distribution
  6. Invest in the use of alternative energy sources for manufacturing and distribution
  7. Move toward sustainable and renewable raw materials
  8. Support organizations that extend the life of surplus equipment and supplies

We believe that the majority of suppliers are willing and able to meet these expectations.

Jennifer Waddell is senior clinical manager at Novation. Founded in 1998, Novation is the leading health care supply contracting company for the more than 65,000 members of VHA Inc. and UHC, two national health care alliances, and Provista, LLC. Novation provides alliance members sourcing services, as well as information and data services.

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