Healthcare Business News

Hospitals should focus on sustainability for public, financial health, speakers say

By Andis Robeznieks
Posted: July 24, 2012 - 5:00 pm ET

Fostering environmental sustainability isn't about "tree-huggers from the '60s"; it's about promoting community health while bolstering a hospital's financial health, according to speakers from the Healthier Hospital Initiative who spoke at a White House Council on Environmental Quality event celebrating the healthcare industry's environmental successes.

Launched in 2010, the initiative is working in some 500 hospitals to reduce the healthcare industry's $8 billion annual energy bill while promoting recycling and serving more-healthful, locally grown food. "You are the ones making this happen on the ground," said Nancy Sutley, chairwoman of the White House Council on Environmental Quality. "This administration is on your side."

The "tree-hugger" comment was made by Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, CEO of Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wis.; he said also that promoting environmental sustainability is part of a hospital's mission, as reducing energy use lowers costs while decreasing pollution-related health problems. He also noted that an initial $2 million investment in energy conservation has resulted in savings of $1 million a year.

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"The math is pretty easy there—even for us pediatricians," Thompson said.

Christina Vernon, the executive sustainability officer for the Cleveland Clinic, said purchasing decisions at her institution's main campus are generating community wealth and stabilizing neighborhoods. She also noted that Cleveland Clinic has been named an Energy Department "Energy Star Partner of the Year" two years in a row.

Brad Perkins, executive vice president for strategy and innovation and chief transformation officer at Vanguard Health Systems, said Vanguard has eliminated sugar-sweetened beverages at four of its Chicago hospitals, and added, "If you have a doughnut shop in your hospital, you have a problem."

Al Iannuzzi, Johnson and Johnson senior director of product stewardship, said suppliers react when hospitals make a switch to more environmentally sensitive products. "All it takes is one loss of sales," Iannuzzi said. "Suppliers will listen, because we want to be in the game."

John Messervy, director of capital and facilities planning with Partners HealthCare in Boston, noted that despite the work being done to make hospitals more energy-efficient, new medical equipment continues to increase demand for power. Messervy, who is also chairman of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, said while he's up on the roof working on a conservation project, medical equipment keeps coming through the door and getting plugged in.

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