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Sustainable Health Care – How Green Business Practices Benefit People & the Earth

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Social and ecological responsibility are two of our goals here at SimplifyLiveLove. As self-employed business owners who do our best to protect the environment, we’re always curious to learn what other business are doing to protect the Earth too. Have you heard of sustainable health care? It combines green business and sustainable business for the benefit of both people and the Earth. I’m excited to share a few things about the concept with you today!Sustainable Health Care - How Green Business Practices Benefit People & the Earth

This post is sponsored by Providence Health. All opinions are mine.

Sustainable Health Care – How Green & Sustainable Business Practices Benefit People & the Earth

joel gilbertson on sustainable health careI recently spoke with Joel Gilbertson, Senior Vice President of Community Partnerships at Providence Health to better understand the concept of Sustainable Health Care. It’s honestly not an idea that I’ve heard about before, but I am very familiar with the green and energy efficient building concepts. From that perspective, I am very familiar with a lot of the ideas that Joel mentions in this post. It is possible for a business to do better for the Earth while still making a profit and serving the people well too. I wish more businesses would adopt models like this!

Here are a six ways sustainable health care is seeking to improve quality of care for patients and benefit the Earth at the same time.

1. What is sustainable health care?

Simply put, sustainable health care is when sustainability is adopted and integrated into the delivery of health care to enable healthier people – patients and caregivers; planet, and pocketbook. Health care is the second most energy intensive commercial consumer, so hospitals play a big role in generating greenhouse gas emissions, and therefore have an important responsibility to mitigate that impact. As caregivers, we know that without protecting the Earth, our common home, we cannot achieve our vision of health for a better world. 

2. How does sustainable health care benefit hospitals? 

There is a wide range of benefits of sustainable health care for hospitals, from operating more efficiently, to improving the environment of care for patients, to boosting caregiver morale, to lowering operating costs, and the list goes on and on. Examples include: 

green hospital mechanical room

Operating more efficiently

Operating equipment as efficiently as possible and installing higher efficiency equipment wherever possible empowers caregivers to focus more on patient care, calling in fewer complaints about temperatures being too warm or cool, or burned out bulbs. Operating efficiently enables hospitals to deliver quality care yet mitigate the impact of energy intensive operations and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 

whole food at a hospital cafeteria - improving patients lives

Improving the environment of care for patients

As a key partner in the community, it is critical to deliver quality care while striving to mitigate the impacts of operations for the surrounding populations. Hospitals with energy efficient equipment such as those bearing the ENERGY STAR® tend to be top performing high-quality products, and support hospitals’ genuine desire to provide a top-quality environment of care. 

Boosting caregiver morale

Sustainable health care demonstrates a hospitals’ commitment to the Earth and its obligation to the surrounding communities. Caregivers want to work and live in a healthy place where their employer cares and invests in their environment – both indoors and out. There are many factors to employee retention, and hospitals who “walk the walk” and do their part to preserve the Earth create one more positive reason why caregivers will take pride in their organization and stay for the long term. 

Lowering operating costs

Energy efficient equipment reduces operating costs due to lower utility bills and reduces maintenance labor costs due to longer lasting equipment. For example, LED lighting provides high quality illumination yet the bulbs can last 8-10 times longer than standard CFL bulbs, which also reduces maintenance time and expenses. Both the energy savings and the maintenance savings result in lower operating costs which can be reinvested into more energy efficiency or patient care. Similarly, reducing waste generation means fewer waste hauler pickups which will lower hauling bills.

3. How does sustainable health care benefit consumers?

While some consumers travel great distances to access quality health care, most patients seek treatment at health care facilities that are close to their homes. Sustainable health care aims to mitigate the environmental impacts of health care operations, which benefits consumers who live in the neighborhoods and communities surrounding the health care facilities.   

Consumers benefit from sustainable health care while seeking treatment, as well, since they will experience a healthier and more comfortable indoor environment, be exposed to fewer hazardous chemicals, and be treated by quality professionals who are proud of their organization’s mission and sustainability efforts.  

4. Why should we care about sustainable health care?

The Pope has called upon all of us globally to care for the Earth, our common home. According to Pope Francis “I urgently appeal… for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation that includes everyone, since the environment challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affect us all…” 

This calling is familiar and embedded in our DNA as a system. Our founding sisters called upon us to care for the Earth as part of our mission to serve the poor and vulnerable, who today are most subject to the harmful effects of climate change. In fact, one of our core values is Justice: “We strive to care wisely for our people, our resources and our Earth.” 

The effects of climate change are apparent in our daily lives, too. We witness these effects whether we are experiencing extreme weather events in our communities or observing the suffering of others in the news. We know that the nature of our work is energy intensive and has an adverse impact on the surrounding communities so we must act to mitigate those impacts, caring for our common home.

5. How are hospitals making the switch to more sustainable practices?

One critical step that we have taken to adopt more sustainable practices was to establish a comprehensive tracking system to set a baseline, measure progress, and report results across an array of sustainability metrics. We have done this through our partnership with Schneider Electric where over half (and counting) of our 800+ hospitals and health care buildings are onboarded onto the “Resource Advisor” platform, which allows us to monitor utility cost and usage and trends for energy, water, waste, associated emissions, and ENERGY STAR benchmark ratings, among other features.

Hospitals are also networking to share best practices and assist fellow hospitals within the system to accelerate their efforts through information exchange. For example, we have a group called the Action Collaborative for Environmental Stewardship (ACES) which meets monthly to learn and discuss various topics in sustainable health care.

Finally, another way in which hospitals are making the switch to more sustainable practices is by “greening” the operating rooms (ORs) since ORs represent one of the departments with the largest environmental footprints. ORs are one of the largest purchasers of supplies and one of the largest producers of waste. According to case studies referenced by Practice Greenhealth, “between 20-30 percent of the total waste generated by the hospital comes from the OR”. Ways that hospitals have chosen to “green” the OR include:

    • Regulated medical waste reduction and segregation
    • Single-use device reprocessing
    • Reusable surgical gowns and basins
    • LED lighting and power booms
    • Medical plastics recycling

6.  Is sustainable health care common in the health care industry?

Like Providence Health and Services dating back twenty years, many health care organizations began integrating sustainability into operations long before the impacts of climate change were apparent. The combination of long-term ownership interests, growing aging population, energy intensity relative to other sectors, and more recently: financial challenges due to and the Pope’s “Global Call to Action” have contributed significantly to the need to address sustainability more intensely and comprehensively in health care. Traditional efforts focused on energy and engineering, not a broader sustainability umbrella which exists today, is relatively new, and is transforming how we think about sustainability in health care.

Many thanks to Providence Health for teaching me a little bit about sustainable health care. I’m glad to see hospitals take an active role in reducing green house gases and conserve wherever possible. 

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About Michelle

Michelle Marine is the author of How to Raise Chickens for Meat, a long time green living enthusiast and rural Iowa mom of four. An avid traveler, Michelle has lived on three different continents and has driven all four kids across the entire USA (by herself!). She loves sharing farm-to-table recipes, their family travel adventures, and gardening and homesteading tips on her popular lifestyle blog, SimplifyLiveLove.com.

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