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Most Hospitals Still Green at Going Green

08.27.14 by Paul Barr H&HN Senior Writer

http://www.hhnmag.com/display/HHN-news-article.dhtml?dcrPath=/templatedata/HF_Common/NewsArticle/data/HHN/Daily/2014/Aug/082714-barr-healthier-hospitals-initiative-energy-conservation-gundersen-health

Progress is occurring in conservation and waste reduction, but the green movement could be quicker in health care, especially considering the financial benefits.

Baseball has the Yankees, pop music has Beyoncé, and hospital energy conservation has Gundersen Health System.

I'm only half-joking, because it does seem like La Crosse, Wis.-based Gundersen stands alone as the primary role model for reducing energy consumption. Led by Jeffrey Thompson, CEO, Gundersen's all-in approach to energy conservation has put it in the position of potentially becoming energy-independent by the end of this year.

Relying on several different strategies to reduce its net consumption of energy, officials for the health system estimated its efforts have yielded $2 million a year in savings, according to an interview with H&HN sister magazine Health Facilities Management.

So with that ideal in my head, the progress of the rest of the field — as measured by the results in the recently released 2013 Milestone Report from the Healthier Hospitals Initiative — was likely to pale in comparison, and it did for the most part. Still, progress could be found in the growing pool of data, which for the 2013 report included 638 hospitals.

"The thing that I'm most impressed about is that among hospitals reporting data, we're seeing not only a trend in increasing sustainability, but also an increase in transparency," says Seema Wadhwa, director of the initiative and director of sustainability for Inova Health. The transparency aspect is important because "more and more data are highlighting that sustainability is a smart business decision," Wadhwa says. "We're able to help hospitals track their journey on business terms."

The authors of the report expect better progress in energy-consumption trends in 2014 after 2013 results were likely skewed by the cold winter and the fact that hospitals are still learning how to implement the strategies.

Plus, the evidence points to hospitals' getting better at energy conservation as they go along, according to the report authors. "As such, with another year's worth of opportunity to become acclimated to energy conservation, we predict that these hospitals will have significant improvements in energy data for 2014."

The report also notes that 73 percent of hospitals' reporting data on recycling exceeded the target of recycling 15 percent of waste. Nevertheless, even more can be done, the authors wrote.

Also tracked by the initiative are: leadership engagement, healthful food offerings, safer chemical use and adoption of smarter purchasing strategies, the last of which might be a good place to start for hospital executives interested in getting involved.

"It's the front door to sustainability," Wadhwa says. "It's where we have the greatest opportunity to make an impact."

This is a different view from what I offered last year, — when I felt more optimistic — so it will be nice if I'm pleasantly surprised when next year's data are released.

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