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5 of the Biggest Healthcare Sustainability Stories of 2013

Written by Bob Herman | December 26, 2013 | Becker's Hospital Review

Here are five of the biggest stories from 2013 related to hospitals, health systems and sustainability initiatives.

In September, Becker's Hospital Review released "50 of the Greenest Hospitals in America." The list, one of the only lists highlighting hospitals for their green efforts, garnered interest across the healthcare spectrum, which reinforced a growing trend: Environmental sustainability is a shared responsibility, and the healthcare sector has become the perfect poster child for the movement.

Further proof of the rise of sustainability in healthcare came in April, when the Healthier Hospitals Initiative released its first annual report. HHI said incorporating sustainability initiatives helped its member hospitals reduce their environmental footprint, lower costs and improve patient health.

After looking back at the past 12 months, here are five of the biggest stories from 2013 related to hospitals, health systems and sustainability initiatives.

1. White House honors two healthcare leaders for sustainability efforts. In July, President Barack Obama and his administration named 11 people as "Champions of Change" for public health and environmental protection issues. Two of those champions are directly involved with hospitals: Jeff Thompson, MD, CEO of Gundersen Health System in La Crosse, Wis., and Gary Cohen, co-founder and president of Health Care Without Harm, Practice Greenhealth and HHI.

In an exclusive interview with Becker's Hospital Review, Dr. Thompson and Mr. Cohen discussed what the event was like and how they were making a difference through their respective organizations.

Mr. Cohen said "the event represented recognition of healthcare as a powerful frame for climate change. I think polls [show] that the best way to communicate to people about climate [change] is to make a link between extreme weather events and their health and the health of their families."

2. Hospitals support President Obama's climate plan. The "Champions of Change" honors came soon after President Obama outlined several ways his administration plans to tackle climate change and reduce carbon pollution.

Although the American Hospital Association did not directly comment on President Obama's plan, HHI and other public health organizations voiced support, saying: "We appreciate the president taking action to reduce carbon emissions and enacting other measures intended to reduce climate change."

3. Sustainability projects gain financial backing. Throughout 2013, many studies and analyses concluded that healthcare sustainability investments are not only good for a hospital or health system's mission — they are also good for financial reasons.

The Commonwealth Fund released a groundbreaking report in November 2012, which said the healthcare system could save $15 billion over the next decade with sustainability initiatives. This year, reports on LEED-certified hospitals, combined heat and power systems and other energy efficiency measures bubbled to the surface, each indicating there are hard savings from sustainability projects. Hospital finance leaders have started to take notice.

"Speaking as a CFO, if done right, [sustainability efforts] could have good financial results for an organization," Steve Glass, CFO of Cleveland Clinic, told Becker's Hospital Review earlier this year. "There are many examples out there. We make sure we are mindful of the environment and utilizing resources that could reduce waste, our footprint and costs."

4. New York mayor says hospitals play key role in fighting climate change. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg laid out a $20 billion plan in June to protect the city against the effects of climate change, and he said New York City's hospitals will play a key role. The plan came more than a half year after Hurricane Sandy decimated New York and other areas along the low-lying East Coast. Mayor Bloomberg said hospitals in the future will have higher design and construction standards to withstand bigger natural disasters.

5. Hospital food environments becoming healthier. In May, Health Care Without Harm's Healthy Food in Health Care program found hospitals are ramping up their sustainable food purchasing and, overall, are promoting healthier food experiences. For example, more than 80 percent of respondents said they have initiated some kind of "healthy beverage" program, which included reducing or eliminating sugary drinks and soda. About 70 percent of hospitals said they are increasing use of tap water instead of bottled water as well.

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