“Sustainability” can mean different things to different people. In healthcare, sustainability is a means to practice the Hippocratic Oath—to heal and do no harm—through safer products, reduced air emissions, elimination of toxins, safer working environments, less waste and efficient use of energy and water.
Sustainability efforts can boost the bottom line
But sustainability isn't just about environmental stewardship. As the sector faces increased financial pressures, more hospitals and healthcare facilities should prioritize sustainability as a way to strategically manage rising costs.
Sustainability must be a core business value across the industry, with real impacts on the bottom line. What are some guiding principles?
It's guided by strategy. It's not enough to put recycling containers in your facility and consider your work done. Successful sustainability programs are guided by facility-wide strategies. Healthcare organizations must create a deliberate approach aimed at building internal support at all levels and producing external results, including financial savings.
It doesn't have to cost more. Facilities should look first at strategies that require little capital investment and save money from day one. Waste prevention is a good place to start—facilities generate tremendous waste and pay higher disposal costs than most industries. A typical hospital's annual energy bill runs between $1 million to $3 million, depending on its size and location. Simple changes can lead to dramatic reductions.
It's measurable. Hospitals engaged in sustainability recognize the old adage is true—you can't manage what you don't measure. Steps taken must be tied to goals and metrics so progress can be measured year-to-year. The results can be the driving focus for executive support and more board involvement.
It doesn't have to be hard. Sustainability is a learning process. Hospitals and not-for-profit organizations—including Practice Greenhealth—are pooling their wisdom and best practices to make significant changes in healthcare settings. Leaders should look to their peers for help incorporating sustainability into day-to-day operations. The success of others can help advance sustainable healthcare that's good for the environment, good for patients and staff, and good for the bottom line.
Laura Wenger is a registered nurse and executive director of Practice Greenhealth, a leading membership organization for healthcare institutions committed to sustainable practices.
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