Report: Healthcare sustainability programs save green two ways

Twitter icon
Facebook icon
LinkedIn icon
e-mail icon
Google icon
Sustainability - 135.80 Kb

Hospitals that seek to preserve the planet for all end up saving a lot of money for themselves, according to a new report from the Health Care Research Collaborative.

The report, “Creating a Culture of Sustainability: Leadership, Coordination and Performance Measurement Systems in Healthcare,” released April 26, presents eight case studies of successful sustainability programs in healthcare. Among the standout performers:

  • Kaiser Permanente, based in Oakland, Calif., projects an annual savings of $26 million through the “environmentally preferable” purchasing program it launched in 2010;
  • Dignity Health (formerly Catholic Healthcare West), based in San Francisco, saved $5.4 million in 2010 by increasing purchases of reusable products through reprocessing; and
  • Gundersen Lutheran Health System, based in LaCrosse, Wis., achieved more than $1 million in annual savings by implementing a number of low- and no-cost measures to improve efficiency and reduce energy demand. 

Green programs succeed when they mesh with the organization’s mission or value system, are monitored to track progress and have the backing of a top executive, wrote report author Tonya Boone, PhD, in her executive summary. Boone is an associate professor of operations and technology at the Mason School of Business of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va.

Boone also found that sustainability creates jobs, as sustainability efforts “need dedicated staff who are responsible for it,” she said in prepared remarks. “And the good news is that the cost savings inherent in sustainability help pay for these staff members as well as to make investments in other hospital programs.”

Staff members spearheading environmental efforts in the eight systems represent a wide variety of backgrounds, according to the report, which notes that this is consistent with findings elsewhere showing that “sustainability coordinators” within hospitals are often selected not because of specialized training but for their interest in environmental issues.

The study highlighted opportunities to help organizations promote sustainability. Noting that employee participation in green teams and related activities is voluntary, it pointed out that participation tends to take away from required work activities or is undertaken on employees’ own time.

On this point, it quoted Joe Bialowitz, Kaiser’s corporate environmental manager: “Volunteerism needs to be linked with corporate objectives such as environmental stewardship. People in the healthcare industry tend to be remarkably altruistic, so the easy part is inspiring them. But then you need to make the most of their limited time. The key is removing barriers and directing their energy toward projects that specifically reduce health risks associated with environmental factors.”

Boone added that some hospitals in the study have moved beyond cutting costs and into creating opportunities to improve community health and quality of life. “People want meaning in their work,” she said. “Sustainability offers a way to connect employers with their employees and communities in a powerful way.”

The free, 30-page report is the latest in a series from the Health Care Research Collaborative, which is a project of the Health Care Without Harm coalition.

Earlier this spring, Healthcare Technology Management looked at the greening of healthcare through the lens of medical equipment management.