How Hospitals Can Go Green

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Going green has been a trend recently, partly due to its popularity as a concept and to a genuine concern for the way human behavior is affecting the planet. Many businesses and facilities are advertising greener products, services, and building codes, and the demand for the coveted LEED certification has gone through the roof as companies scramble to look more altruistic and forward thinking.

However, is this environmentally friendly trend only available to some types of businesses or buildings, or can all buildings go green? One example that might strain the discussion is hospital buildings, for which going green might be a secondary priority to saving lives.

Hospitals are Wasteful

Although hospitals do need to use resources when they are helping patients and may not be able to substitute all of their traditional methods for greener options, hospitals can, and should, easily make some changes. Hospitals are one of the biggest culprits of waste due to various factors:

• According to the site Sustainability Roadmap hospitals can produce up to 25 pounds of waste, per patient, per day. When you consider how many patients fill a hospital at any given time, and add to this number the percentage of waste that is radioactive or toxic, the results are astonishing

• Hospitals also have a large amount of what Sustainability Roadmap terms “regulated waste.” This includes special materials and biohazard waste that must be dealt with by special authorities and is regulated by various protection and health agencies

• In general, because the buildings are so large and have so many occupants using their resources, hospitals can use far more energy just running lights, machines, offices, and cafeterias than most other buildings and organizations

• Most of the supplies that hospitals use, such as plastic cups and bedpans, gloves, and medical supplies are all disposed of and put into landfills. While it is good to have sterile needles, catheter tubes, and other supplies, the products themselves as well as their packaging create an unruly amount of waste

What to Do?

Going green can be simple for all facilities, including hospitals. While they obviously should put healthcare on the top of the priority list, there are some steps building managers and practitioners can take to reduce hospital waste and become more green. Hospitals are “going green” all over the world, and many non profits outline their methodology in documents available to the public, such as Sustainability Solutions in Canada. Building managers can follow the steps outlined in these documents, or can also implement their own unique programs.

If building managers turn off unnecessary extra energy sources and encourage employees to do the same, the hospital could deter much of its waste. For examples, large medical machines such as x ray machines and CT scanners should be shut off when not in use. Soda machines have optional light functions that when turned off during both the day can really save precious energy.

Even without programs of support, hospital employees, from cafeteria workers to physicians, can think more before they throw out supplies. Many electronics and recyclable materials get put in the dump as part of hospital waste, and even supplies that could be reused. Taking the extra second to move the recycle bin closer and put waste in its proper receptacle can make a difference In addition, turning off lights in patient rooms and unused stations when they are not needed, such as in broad daylight or while patients are sleeping can make a huge impact over time in decreasing energy consumption.

Hospitals Can Go Green

Even though hospitals need to prioritize healthcare initiatives, there is no excuse for producing unnecessary waste on a large scale. By becoming green, hospitals will not only save costs for themselves, and subsequently have a larger budget to buy life saving medical equipment and hire practitioners, but they will also be setting an important example in their community. When hospitals go green, everyone benefits.

Article by Rachel Oda, a medical biller who recycles when she can, trying to get her office as green as possible. She writes for www.medicalcodingandbillingcertification.net where you can find a certification program to learn how to talk to both hospitals and insurance companies.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.

  • http://www.pharosproject.net Sarah G

    Another important consideration for all buildings that are “going green” is the health impacts of their building materials, and this is especially true of hospitals, which are in the business of making and keeping their occupants healthy. A good primer on toxic chemicals in building materials, written specifically for health care organizations, is available through the Healthy Building Network (HBN) at http://www.healthybuilding.net/healthcare/2008-05-06_Toxics_memo.pdf. A number of health care organizations are now using HBN’s Pharos Project (www.pharosproject.net), an online library of products and chemicals and their environmental and health impacts, to find healthier materials for new construction and renovation.

  • Billy

    Another important aspect is to educate the janitors or janitorial servicer providers about what is true residual trash and recyclables in the local area. Since I am currently working in a waste industrial sector, I have often asked the janitors what to do with the collected materials even in the right receptacles, when I visited the hospital for my annual medical check-up. None of the janitors I talked to had a basic understanding of what was actually trash and recyclables. For their convenience sake, or language barrier in some occasion, the janitors commingled all the collected materials from the individual receptacles into a big cart and put the whole load into the dumpster back behind the facility building for disposal. Then the potential recyclables were never recovered but sent to landfill.

  • Mercedes Potter

    The first way to go is definitely by cutting back on electric as above stated. Another way hospitals could go green is to use EHR’s or electronic health records. This could substantially minimize the amount of paper used within the facility and save a great deal of money in printing fees. I enjoyed reading your ideas