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Southeast Michigan hospitals save green by going green

By JAY GREENE  

St. Joseph Mercy Health System in Ann Arbor has taken advantage of low fuel oil and gas prices the past year and saved more than 20 percent through advanced bulk purchases.

Beaumont Health System has cut electricity usage by at least 10 percent, saving at least $1.4 million last year, by purchasing more efficient LED (light-emitting diode) lights and converting to variable frequency air conditioning units.

Oakwood Healthcare — before it became part of the new eight-hospital Beaumont Health — launched a recycling program last year and has eliminated 100 percent of its recyclable trash, or 50,000 pounds, and saves about $100,000 per year.

St. Joseph Mercy, Beaumont and Oakwood are part of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, which includes more than 60 of the state's 120 hospitals and more than 2,000 nationally.

Healthier Hospitals encourages hospitals to create a more sustainable business model by reducing energy and water usage, choosing safer and less toxic products, recycling and serving healthier food.

"Sustainability in health care is touching on mainstream from an operations standpoint," said John Ebers, associate director of the facility engagement in energy program with Reston, Va.-based Practice Greenhealth and Healthier Hospitals. "Health care organizations are reaching a tipping point with the technologies that have developed to the point where there is a financial payback on sustainability."

Other hospitals participating include Henry Ford Health SystemSt. John Providence Health SystemMcLaren HealthcareUniversity of Michigan and Detroit Medical Center. Each of the participating hospitals has various environmental and public health projects underway that also save money.

"We are seeing the general culture of hospitals change where people want to work for sustainable companies," said Ebers, who is based in Grand Rapids. "There is either an executive or someone on the board who is driving changes within the organization. Clinicians and physicians want to work for these type of systems."

Tom Tocco, St. Joseph Mercy's vice president of support services and capital projects, said reducing energy costs and improving the environment are twin goals for St. Joseph, which is part of Livonia-based Trinity Health.

"Hospitals use a lot of fuel oil because of our generators and we make large purchases and store a lot in underground tanks," Tocco said. "We will buy ahead, even into the next year, because the prices are so favorable." 

Buying on the spot natural gas market, Trinity Health has saved millions of dollars in natural gas, water and sewer and electricity, Tocco said. 

Despite rising utility prices and adding nearly a half million in square footage to its footprint, St. Joseph Mercy's Ann Arbor hospital has reduced water use by 51 percent, natural gas use by 29 percent, electricity by 20 percent and cut annual spending to $7.5 million in fiscal year 2012 ended June 30 from $10 million in fiscal 2005, Tocco said. 

Among other projects, St. Joseph Mercy also operates its own 25-acre farm, which provides produce to be included in patient meals, sold at the hospital's farmers market and donated to food banks. 

In 2011, Beaumont embarked on a strategic plan to become a more sustainable company with Practice Greenhealth, a healthy food program, when it established a farmers market for patients and employees, said Kay Winokur, Beaumont's vice president of quality and professional services. 

Beaumont now purchases about $540,000 annually from local farmers and beverage manufacturers. In the process, it reduced meat purchases by 20 percent and purchased 20 percent more healthy beverages.

"We don't save more, but we have a better product, healthier with less pesticides," Winokur said.

Overall, the healthy foods program was so successful, Beaumont asked teams of employees to look for other opportunities to save on energy and water costs, Winokur said.

Teams suggested boiler room upgrades and replacing flush bulbs. Savings have totaled 1.5 million gallons of water.

Overall, Beaumont cut electricity usage by 3 percent, water by 15 percent and saved a total of about $3 million the last three years, she said.

"We do return on investment for capital projects and right now we have a 1.5 year to two year ROI," she said. For example, adding LED lights to its north parking garage cost $110,000. 

Recycling projects — cardboard, batteries, lamps, plastics, sterile equipment, coffee grounds and compost — save about $100,000 per year in lower landfill costs. 

Winokur also said efforts to reduce the use of toxic chemicals have improved the health of patients and employees. 

"We have moved to green cleaning products. It is healthier for staff and patients and we are budget neutral," she said. "It helps with staff time off because (someone's) asthma flares up after they waxed the floor." 

Last year, Oakwood became one of the first health care organizations in Michigan to go landfill free, officials said. 

Oakwood's four hospitals and other trash-generating operations now practice 100 percent recycling. Oakwood uses special recycling technology to convert the trash and waste products to energy. 

One example of Oakwood's recycling and energy savings is this: Oakwood recycles 13.5 tons of paper each month and 390 tons of cardboard each year. 

"To put those numbers in perspective, 1 ton of cardboard saves 390 kwh of energy, 46 gallons of oil and 6.6 BTUs of energy," said Alissa Bachnak, Oakwood's regional manager of environmental services. 

"If we took all our trash to a landfill, it would consume 1,450 cubic yards of space every 30 days, so we're simultaneously reducing our carbon footprint and making a positive impact for our patients."

http://www.crainsdetroit.com/article/20150614/NEWS/306149994/southeast-michigan-hospitals-save-green-by-going-green

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