Hospitals do not typically come to mind when people think of industries that contribute to climate change. There are no smokestacks or tailpipes or obvious sources of waste or air emissions coming out of a hospital.
While some hospitals have been proactive with waste reduction programs and LEED certified facilities, as an industry, there is more that can be accomplished. With much of the industry reviewing its supply chain practices in wake of the chronic shortages caused by COVID-19, this is the right time for the industry to re-evaluate its role in Climate Change and take the opportunity to grapple with how best to build more sustainable supply chains.
Healthcare’s climate footprint is equivalent to 4.4 percent of global net emissions, or two gigatons of carbon dioxide, and the U.S. health sector is the world’s highest emitter in both absolute and per capita terms, according to a 2019 study by Health Care Without Harm.
Hospital emissions and waste are caused by several factors. Hospitals typically operate 24/7/365 and consume a lot of energy due to lighting, sophisticated heating, cooling and ventilation systems, and computing systems. In addition, the medical supplies and waste associated with those supplies are part of the healthcare supply chain and are a key contributor. The trend over the years towards single-use instruments that come with excessive plastic packaging adds up – and presents opportunities for waste reduction.
Purchasing departments must strike a balance between priorities that often seem at odds with each other – the need to manage a budget and keep purchasing costs down compared with what often is assumed to be the higher cost of environmentally friendly materials and sanitizing items for re-use. Sustainability is now one more factor that must be considered into vendor and product evaluations.
The healthcare industry, which exists to improve the health of its communities, is correctly taking a leadership position that considers all factors in the total cost of ownership equation. Leaders must think in terms of supporting both short and longer-term priorities to reduce the overall carbon footprint of their supply chain.
With the healthcare supply chain still reeling from the impact of COVID-19, some might argue that this is not the time to be concerned with sustainability issues.
Many hospitals are still in the early stages of re-evaluating preferred vendors and medical supplies, making now the ideal time to prioritize sustainable purchasing to identify sustainable partnerships which prioritize products and product categories that reduce the overall footprint. Each health system must determine their core purchasing requirements, considered but not limited to shipping, item composition, and eco-certification. For more information click here.
Here are some tips hospitals can follow to build sustainable purchasing practices:
- Engage hospital leadership to endorse supply chain sustainability as a core purchasing value
- Set realistic goals that reinforce this value with purchasing staff and all requestors
- Establish clear criteria for identifying, evaluating and scoring suppliers for sustainability
- Identify product categories where you think you can make a difference
- Create a data-driven system to identify eco-friendly products, inform users and measure the impact
- Communicate with your suppliers, explain your priorities, share your criteria and ask for feedback
- Develop an ordering system that visually identifies, prioritizes and promotes sustainable products to drive volume to sustainable preferred options