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Environmentally Preferable Purchasing


The U.S. health care industry spends more than $200 billion annually on medical and non-medical products, with more than 70 percent of that spend occurring through use of a group purchasing organization (GPO)[i]. Hospitals are environments for healing but many of the products and materials that come into a hospital may be harmful to patients, staff, and those in the community. This is due to the fact that some products used in health care may contain or release (during production, use or disposal) carcinogens, reproductive toxins or other hazardous materials. Many of the chemicals used in products have not have been adequately tested for toxicity. EPA has been able to require testing on just 200 of the more than 80,000 chemicals produced and used in the U.S.[ii] Additionally, there are a growing number of disposable products in health care, voluminous amounts of packaging and a variety of products that are energy or water-intensive or require special handling or hazardous waste disposal at the end of life.

Going Green: EPP

What we buy matters. Buying products with reduced environmental and human health impacts is vital to sustainable health care.  Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP) is the act of purchasing products/services whose environmental impacts have been considered and found to be less damaging to the environment and human health when compared to competing products/services. EPP can be the key to saving money and reducing waste while meeting the needs of patients. 

A successful EPP effort may start with a few carefully targeted purchasing changes. However EPP programs should also establish procedures and methods that support continually expand the scope of environmental purchasing to select as many environmentally sound, healthy and safe products and services as a facility can use.

What are the benefits of EPP?

EPP is “preventive medicine” that promotes the heath of the environment—reducing negative environmental or health effects related to products before they occur. It’s an important part of the process toward sustainable operations. Downstream corrections of environmental or occupational health issues are almost always more costly – in terms of dollars, labor, technical complexity, and adverse publicity—than prevention. By carefully selecting goods and services, hospitals can:

  • significantly reduce their overall impact on the environment
  • reduce costs with lower purchase prices or changes that reduce or eliminate waste disposal, hazardous waste, and/or the need for worker safety measures
  • provide a healthier environment for patients, workers and employees through reduced exposure to hazardous substances (products such as cleaners, solvents and paints)
  • create opportunities for positive publicity and promotion

Why is the role of purchasing so important?

Nearly every waste that leaves a hospital came in through purchasing. Purchasing departments (or Group Purchasing Organizations) are a central standard-setting point for nearly every product or service used in the hospital. During the procurement process, require suppliers to reduce the environmental impact of their products and services. Use the EPP Resources and Services from Practice Greenhealth to know what environmental questions to ask and the specifications to use.   

EPP Resources and Services from Practice Greenhealth

Practice Greenhealth offers tools and information you need to achieve concrete environmental goals through contracting activities.


[ii] The Health Case for Reforming the Toxic Substances Control Act, Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Report, Jan 2010, pg 3.

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