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Health Care Sector on Path to Sustainability and Beyond

By Laura Wenger, RN, Executive Director, Practice Greenhealth

As sustainability increasingly becomes an important issue to the health care sector, Practice Greenhealth has led the movement to implement sustainable operations in hospitals and its supporting community. Practice Greenhealth is pleased to be working with more than 1200member hospital on their sustainability initiatives.  Yet, we believe that there are many hospitals that could be engaging in sustainability that are not. Reasons range from lack of awareness to fear of additional expenses. However, we have learned from our member hospitals that sometimes hospitals just need a small push or “spark” to start on the journey to sustainability. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative proposes to provide that spark.

Engagement in sustainability initiatives is one of the most exciting things to happen to the health care sector in a long time. This is an opportunity to engage the entire staff in an initiative that not only benefits the hospital bottom line, it provides tremendous rewards and satisfaction in knowing that you are doing something good for the patients, the staff, and the planet. Undertaking sustainability initiatives is an incredible opportunity for staff engagement. Every department and every staff member can contribute to this effort. Practice Greenhealth members have reported enthusiastically about staff competitions, challenges, Excellence Awards and—especially—staff having fun while engaging in this important work. Many videos and reports are posted on the Practice Greenhealth website, and others will be shared on the HHI site as well as new hospitals begin to engage in this effort.

Switching to sustainable operations is also good for the bottom line of hospitals. By their very nature, hospitals are intensive energy users. Our member hospitals report high returns on investment when switching to energy-efficient equipment, installing alternative energy sources, and practicing energy conservation measures. Reducing chemical exposures helps reduce patient and staff exposures, which is critical for nurses, who have high rates of occupational asthma that often limits their careers, with ensuing additional costs to the hospital to recruit and train replacements. And reducing waste is one of the easiest ways to produce immediate results for the bottom line. Practice Greenhealth members have produced dozens of case studies documenting these savings.

Practice Greenhealth has been proud to have provided much of the expertise used to design the “How To” guidances for the six HHI Challenge areas, along with our partner organizations, Health Care Without Harm and The Center for Health Design. We are also very proud of the fact that each and every sponsoring system of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative is a Practice Greenhealth member. They are making a deeper commitment to caring for their patients, staff and community, and becoming advocates for healing. We commended them for their leadership in this important effort to improve public health.

For hospitals who have not begun their sustainability journey, we invite you to become involved with HHI. Take the Challenges! The benefit and rewards are great. And if you want to move past these initial challenge levels, please consider joining Practice Greenhealth. We have developed programs beyond these initial levels offered by HHI. Once you have the “sustainability spark,” we are sure you will want to take your sustainability efforts as far as you can. Our job is to help you on that journey.


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