As it certainly should be, providing the best care quality possible to patients is paramount in healthcare. In essence, keeping patients safe and providing them with ample care and opportunities to improve their health is why hospitals and health systems exist. Not only is staff labor necessary to make this happen, but also many different types of materials and natural resources used in healthcare operations—some of which can be detrimental to the environment if used in excess or not disposed of properly.
Recently Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Initiative, told lawmakers that hospitals are not doing enough to combat climate change. According to the World Health Organization, the long-term health effects of climate change are eye-opening, with detrimental impacts to food supply, air quality, and safe drinking water. It is also expected to cause 250,000 extra deaths per year between the years 2030 and 2050. With that in mind, here are three areas healthcare organizations can focus on to reduce waste and help the environment—often while cutting costs in the process.
- Decrease Water Usage: Using water is unmistakably important within a hospital, with proper hand washing to limit the spread of infectious disease being only one example of its use. With 35% of water’s end uses in hospitals being domestic/restroom-related, specific fixtures that are water-efficient can not only reduce water usage, but also save organizations money. For example, Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, Washington, saved approximately $140,000 per year after starting water-targeted initiatives that involved installing more efficient equipment.
- Implement Robust Recycling Processes: With hospitals producing up to 25 pounds of waste per patient per day, opportunity exists to reduce this volume. Doing so can reduce the burden on the earth’s landfills, which in turn, can limit the amount of climate change–contributing greenhouse gases emitted into the atmosphere. Hospitals can do their part by ensuring recyclable materials are actually recycled. The Healthcare Plastics Recycling Council’s HospiCycle tool aims to assist hospitals in implementing a multifaceted recycling program, and it even provides an inclusive guide with tools to use before you begin, while you get started on, and throughout operating your specific program.
- Better Manage Energy Utilization: Given their “always-open” nature and the constant energy necessary to power everything inside, hospitals’ energy usage is bound to be high. As one of the most energy-intensive types of buildings in the United States, healthcare facilities spend over $9.7 billion on energy every year. If attention is paid to using energy-efficient equipment like Energy Star qualified heating, ventilating, and air conditioning systems, hospitals can save money and help the environment simultaneously. For example, by installing a new HVAC system with variable frequency drives, Lewis County General Hospital in Lowville, New York, saved over $7,000 per year and reduced energy usage by 15%.
By no means is this an exhaustive list, but the actions above can make an impact if put into place. If everyone involved—lawmakers, environmental groups, and hospital leadership, to name a few—begins to collectively focus on becoming more environmentally conscious, that would go a long way in limiting the detrimental health impacts of climate change for years to come.
Looking for other strategies to improve long-term health outcomes for your community? Fill out the form below to learn how to access HBI’s materials and tools.