Hospitals and other healthcare providers buy $200 billion worth of products and services every year from businesses that serve the healthcare sector. Much of that spending—about 70%—is bought through group purchasing organizations.
Most hospitals know that the selection of products they buy and use can have a tremendous impact on their sustainability performance. Products might contain or release hazardous chemicals or materials during production, use or disposal, and disposable products, and excess packaging creates waste that exacerbates a product's harmful impact on the environment. In addition, the energy or water requirements to use medical equipment can vary greatly from one product to another. In the end, when a product's useful life expires, disposing of the product presents another series of environmental choices and impacts.
It's clear that many of the sustainability challenges hospitals face each day are inextricably linked to the particulars of the products that are purchased and the end-to-end supply chain that the products and their components travel. This is why we at Practice Greenhealth believe strongly that what we buy matters. Creating a more sustainable hospital starts in large part with changing the products and supplies that come through the front door and leave as waste through the back door.
The challenge for individual hospitals and health systems is that the environmental attributes of products are often not apparent within some purchasing processes. However, market-wide progress is being made through several initiatives that bring together hospital sustainability and purchasing managers, GPOs, and medical product and service providers.