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What Green Purchasing Can Do For You

A solution to better care, less waste and more cost savings

By Laura Wenger

Executive Insight | Posted on: January 27, 2014

As the reform process intensifies, the health care landscape continues to shift. Hospital executives today face heightened challenges to simultaneously change the way health care is delivered and control spending.

Many health care executives are rethinking purchasing programs to help streamline and save-but few understand the financial benefits of looking at purchasing and ownership of the product in its entirety.

Green Purchasing: Key to Cost Savings
Environmentally preferable purchasing is a powerful strategy used by a growing number of health care leaders to achieve the Triple Aim-better health outcomes and better quality of care at a lower cost.

As these executives prioritize green medical products and services, they are seeing that environmentally preferable purchasing is key to saving money and reducing waste and chemical exposures while meeting the needs of patients.

And they aren't alone.

Our nation's top health care leaders recognize environmental sustainability as one critical revolution in quality care. Environmentally preferable purchasing goes beyond cost savings-it's changing the way we deliver care by improving health outcomes.

More than Purchasing Price
Purchasing green products is an obvious way to help hospitals improve their environmental footprints, yet it also makes good business sense if the lifecycle and costs of disposal are weighed along with purchase price.

However, purchasing decisions often are exclusively made on the purchase price paid for medical products. Evaluating only the initial purchasing price is no longer sufficient for controlling costs and delivering high quality care.

So what is environmentally preferable purchasing?
It's generally defined as the act of purchasing products and services whose environmental impacts have been considered and found to be less damaging to the environment and human health when compared to competing products and services.

Prioritization should be given to products that offer less risk of chemical exposure, less packaging and waste and less energy needed to use the product BEFORE the purchasing decision is made.

Many health care organizations are utilizing a "total cost of ownership" approach to purchasing, which evaluates not just the purchase price of products, but the associated costs of excessive packaging, energy use, productivity, training and disposal for products. When evaluated this way, products that appear lower in purchase price can actually cost a facility more over the long-term-and more sustainable products turn out to be more cost effective.

Safer for Communities, Better for Health
Many of the medical products once used widely across the industry have been found to have negative impacts in our facilities and our communities.

Mercury is a good example.

This dangerous chemical was once used in the most common materials and devices, including thermometers, blood pressure monitors and staining solutions. After discovering the devastating damage it can do, many hospitals have abandoned products made with this harmful chemical.

Still, there are other products containing chemicals of concern that may be released into patient rooms or into the groundwater and soil during disposal. It makes sense for the health care industry to use safer alternatives that reduce impacts to patients, workers and the communities that we serve.

Buying Green is Buying Less
Vast amounts of energy, water and raw materials are used in the production and transportation of products. In addition, facilities operate on a 24/7 basis, hospitals produce a tremendous amount of waste and the cost for disposal is higher than most other industries. Many hospitals have switched back to reusable products and abandoned some disposable medical products that generate tremendous waste.

Reprocessing of single-use devices is now common practice in the health care industry. Third-party reprocessors collect FDA-approved devices (many labeled "single-use") and clean, test, sterilize, and package them, making them available back to the hospital for 50% of the original purchase price on average. Using reprocessed "single-use" devices decreases the volume of regulated medical waste, reduces the supply budget and saves valuable financial resources.

You Can Adopt Green Purchasing Strategies, Too
Far too many hospitals are not yet taking advantage of the environmentally preferable products available, mostly due to concerns for patient safety and increasing
costs. The truth is hospitals can improve the bottom line and increase patient and staff safety by going green.

Environmentally preferable purchasing is a transformative strategy for today's hospital, making operations more efficient and providing needed visibility in the community for a commitment to environmental and human health.

The Greening the Supply Chain® Initiative and Practice Greenhealth membership can help you adopt effective and efficient environmentally preferable purchasing practices and other sustainability initiatives. We work to identify opportunities and educate the healthcare sector on environmental sustainability.

For more information visit us online.

Laura Wenger, RN, is the executive director of Practice Greenhealth. 


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