Practice Greenhealth’s Sustainability Benchmark Report Shows Strong Progress in Environmental Performance Among Nation’s Leading Hospitals

Published: 11/01/2018 - 16:15
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Details health care sustainability trends across key areas: green purchasing, safer chemicals, climate change mitigation, energy and waste reduction, local and sustainable food

Washington, DC – Practice Greenhealth, the nation’s leading nonprofit membership and networking organization for sustainable health care, released today its eighth annual Sustainability Benchmark Report. The report analyzes data from leading hospitals and health systems across the country, giving a snapshot of trends in environmental performance and sustainability in energy, water, toxics, food and other categories. Practice Greenhealth first reported on the environmental performance of its members in 2009.

“Our annual Sustainability Benchmark Report allows us to share how the nation’s leading hospitals are making progress year after year to improve health and reduce environmental impact while delivering strong financial return. We are proud to see more hospitals than ever appointing sustainability leaders to oversee environmental performance,” said Cecilia DeLoach Lynn, Director of Sector Performance and Recognition for Practice Greenhealth. “This has been another successful year for Practice Greenhealth members. Together, we are driving powerful change across the entire health care sector.”

The Benchmark Report is the only report that shows comprehensive data illustrating the progress of sustainability across the health care sector. The report analyzes data provided by health care facilities of various types and sizes located across the country. In addition to reporting out on metrics, the report shares sustainability trends and emerging areas of focus.

Notable trends among these highly engaged hospitals are listed below.


Clear scientific consensus backed by decades of research shows that climate change poses a danger to human health. Hospitals recognize their unique opportunity to address climate change, yet U.S. hospitals emit an estimated eight percent of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. Reducing the energy use in hospitals is paramount to improving the sector’s environmental footprint. 

Trends: In the last three years, the percentage of facilities that have a written plan to address climate change mitigation has nearly doubled. Also, more hospitals are relying on renewable energy—the percentage of facilities that generate or purchase renewable energy has increased by 81%.


Hospitals in the U.S. produce more than 4.67 million tons of waste each year. Waste is one of the most visible environmental issues associated with hospitals and health care systems, both in terms of the quantity of waste generated and in the complexity of managing it appropriately. Amid rising concern about increasing waste removal fees, hospitals also recognize that waste disposal can have a health impact on communities.

Trends: In the last two years, the percentage of facilities that have taken measures to reduce the generation of pharmaceutical waste has grown by 11%. Leading hospitals are routinely achieving a 30% recycling rate—more than double the early EPA goal of 15%. However, surpassing the 30% mark has proven to be more challenging for hospitals. Overall, hospitals recycled 121,556 tons of material saving nearly $23.7 million dollars through recycling, with hospitals generating more than 1400 pounds of recycling per full time employee.


Hospitals continue to recognize the value of reducing toxicity in our nation’s places of healing. More hospitals are purchasing products with safer chemicals to reduce patient and staff exposure through everyday products like furnishings and furniture, cleaners and medical devices that contain chemicals linked to health issues.

Trends: In 2016, the percentage of hospitals prioritizing furniture and medical furnishings free of halogenated flame retardants, formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds and PVC (vinyl) more than doubled from the previous year. A total of 78% of hospitals have chemical or purchasing policies that identify specific chemicals of concern to human health and the environment with 79% purchasing certified green cleaning chemicals and 30% indicating they have programs in place to purchase furniture or furnishings that avoid chemicals of concern.  


By 2030, studies show that global water supplies will meet just 60% of total demand. With historic droughts happening both in our nation and around the world, a growing number of hospitals are examining water use and looking for ways to change operations to use water more efficiently.  Currently, U.S. hospitals use more than seven percent of our nation’s commercial water supply. While progress is being made in the water conservation arena, there are still considerable opportunities for improvement.

Trends: In the last three years, the percentage of facilities that benchmark water usage has doubled. During that time, there’s also been a 36% increase in the percentage of facilities that have a written plan to reduce water use over time with specific goals and a timeline. However, only 17% of hospitals reported any water reduction projects in 2015. The slowly rising price of water combined with severe drought and changing weather patterns in some areas is forcing hospitals to renew their attention to water use. 


The U.S. spends billions of dollars annually to treat diet-related, chronic diseases—$147 billion to treat obesity alone, another $116 billion to treat diabetes, and hundreds of billions to treat cardiovascular disease and cancer. Thinking about food in a systematic, holistic way is emerging as an important component of a hospital’s sustainability programs. A focus on more sustainable food systems means providing healthier options for patients and staff, as well as thoughtful purchasing and sourcing. Sustainable food programs consider the entire lifecycle of the food offered to patients and staff—including how it is produced, processed, and transported (and how far it had to travel).

Trends: The majority of facilities have indicated they see sustainable food as an important area of focus–62% have a policy in place to address this issue. While 72% of hospitals reported purchasing locally and/or sustainably grown and produced food, farm to hospital relationships are still in initial or growth stages, and some facilities struggle with operationalizing the definitions of “local” or sustainable.” Half of participating facilities have reduced their meat purchases, and 54% purchase some portion of their meat/poultry raised without the routine use of antibiotics.

Practice Greenhealth has been recognizing environmental excellence in health care sustainability since the inception of its Awards program in 2002. This report is based on data supplied in applications by a total of 322 hospitals that participated in Practice Greenhealth’s 2016 Environmental Excellence Awards.

Although access to the complete 2016 Sustainability Benchmark Report is a benefit of membership in Practice Greenhealth, the report is also now available through a new subscription program offered by the organization.



About Practice Greenhealth:

Practice Greenhealth is the nation’s leading health care membership community whose mission is to transform health care worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint, becomes a community anchor for sustainability and is a leader in the global movement for environmental health and justice. To learn more about Practice Greenhealth visit:


Benn Grover
Practice Greenhealth

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