Sustainable Healthcare: A Perfect Match
People: Patients, Staff and Community
There are many foundational business theories that say that an organization’s product or service is only as good as its employees. Many times, organizations forget about this and shift to the quantity-over-quality mindset. In healthcare, taking care of employees is an absolute necessity. Having strong employee programs can fuel the recruiting mechanisms, attract top-talent and committed individuals with determination. Large organizations today have employee wellness programs and healthcare is no different as everyone is considered a patient that needs to be cared for. Implementing some of the sustainability strategies addressed in the Planet and Profit sections can have significant impacts on a workforce. Engagement at every level with these initiatives is crucial from onsite green teams, healing gardens, and community service events. Gardening is hot topic for schools and children but it should also be considered for hospital staff and patients as healing gardens provide therapeutic care and increased level of comfort for the patient experience. From a healthcare organization perspective philanthropic efforts are always at the forefront from seeking financial support from community partners or in turn providing support to those partners and community residents by the form of affordable quality care. Partner with community partners and leverage the current community involvement activities to advance the sustainability message and culture. Management Tip: Remember that happy employees make happy patients and happy patients make a strong and resilient community to foster development and growth.
Planet: Waste and Toxins
Where would we be if hospitals and cancer centers led the charge in eliminating chemicals linked to cancer? For one, people would be healthier and two, the air we breathe and water we drink would remain high quality. As an industry, the power of purchasing and procurement decisions is incredible and the markets that supply the industry have unfortunately not been following suit as they are with other industries like retail and industrial. According to the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, “De-toxing the products we buy and reducing toxic chemical exposures that are contributing to cancer rates of one in two men and one in three women and learning disabilities affecting one in six American children.” Eco Tip: Hospitals are huge contributors to waste and especially hazardous waste, so be sure that those are being managed as efficiently as possible.
Profit: Facilities, Process and Resource Efficiency
Did you know that healthcare is the second largest energy consuming industry in the US? The first is fast food restaurants that also use equipment and mechanics 24/7. Not only is healthcare second largest, but the industry spends over $6 billion a year on energy. Effective management of this resource in a hospital and for a hospital system is highly favorable and critical step towards sustainable healthcare. The business case is clear especially when the Association for Energy Engineers mentions that 10 percent of energy savings can be realized purely from behavioral and process changes. Many healthcare organizations are not only looking at energy efficiency but human efficiency. There is a focus on getting patients in and out quickly, healthy and happy. The smoother the patient experience is, the more efficient staff is being utilized and resources are being consumed. Savings Tip: Implement changes in small pieces and show success with pilots and trials. Measure results then expand across the organization.
Jump on the bandwagon!
More and more healthcare organizations are participating in programs like the Healthier Hospitals Initiative and ENERGY STAR. For those who have new hospitals in the pipeline, the U.S. Green Building Council has released a custom LEED Certification system specifically for healthcare. Existing hospitals should use LEED for Existing Buildings and Green Guide for Healthcare for guidelines on sustainable operations and maintenance.
Impacts to the Healthcare System
The topic of healthcare unfortunately brings conversation and argument to the political agenda. It’s interesting to think about how the issues and arguments that always come forward could be or would be affected if we simply applied sustainability and efficiency foundations into our system. With 20% of industry impact on the U.S. economy, think about how greener and more sustainable hospitals could bring us better care, safer products, greener energy, greener jobs and healthier communities.
Jeff Benavides is a LEED Accredited Professional with a specialty in Operations & Maintenance (LEED AP O+M). He is senior project manager at ecoPreserve: Building Sustainability, which provides strategic planning, program management and building certification consulting services to incorporate sustainability into organizations and existing buildings of all sizes. Follow @ecoPreserve and @jbgreenpm on twitter and at www.ecoPreserve.net
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