Six US healthcare providers in drive for environmental sustainability in hospitals

14 May 2010

Six leading US healthcare providers have formed the Healthier Hospitals Initiative to help speed the healthcare sector toward environmental sustainability.

The six providers: Advocate Health Care; Catholic Healthcare West; Hospital Corporation of America (HCA, Inc.); Kaiser Permanente; MedStar Health; and Partners Healthcare, have launched the Healthier Hospitals Agenda, a document that outlines specific activities that hospitals can take to reduce their environmental footprint and improve health outcomes.

The overall goal of this national initiative is to use a co-ordinated approach to achieve sustainability throughout the healthcare sector, which will prevent environment-related illness, create extraordinary environmental benefits, and save billions of dollars in healthcare expenses.

"Collectively, the healthcare sector can stimulate the marketplace to make more eco-friendly products available, and we can inform public policies that support and facilitate the transition to environmental sustainability," stated John Messervy, AIA, Director of Capital & Facility Planning, Partners Healthcare Boston, MA. "These measures can greatly reduce the overall costs of healthcare, as well as help protect the health of our patients, staff and community."

The United States, as other developed countries, is experiencing an epidemic of chronic disease, including cancer, diabetes, and respiratory illnesses, which by government accounts, consumes almost 75% of healthcare expenditures.

There is increasing evidence that environmental contaminants, pollution and emissions are linked to adverse health effects and that addressing the global ecological crisis is a core component in the prevention of chronic disease. On May 5, the President's Cancer Panel stated that "the true burden of environmentally induced cancers has been grossly underestimated," and advised that policies be put in place to reduce chemical exposures.

The healthcare sector, comprising 16% of GNP in the US, has a large environmental footprint. Hospitals are the second most energy intensive buildings in the country. They generate 6,600 tons of waste a day. They consume large amounts of water, operate food services, and use chemical-based products for disinfecting, cleaning, pest control and grounds keeping. They utilize fossil fuels for transportation of patients, visitors, staff and supplies.

"Practicing good environmental stewardship is one way of fulfilling our role as healthcare providers to the communities we serve," stated Kathy Gerwig, Vice-President for Workplace Safety and Environmental Stewardship Officer, Kaiser Permanente. "A sector-wide approach to sustainability will provide the benefits of better health not just in one community, but to the entire nation — by reducing the overall disease burden of the population, and the enormous financial and human toll associated with it."

Tenets of the Healthier Hospitals Agenda include the following:

  • Improve environmental health and patient safety: Engage in Environmentally Preferred Purchasing, reduce chemical use, actively seek alternative sustainable products, engage in green building, and purchase and serve healthy food and foods made in sustainable ways.
  • Reduce healthcare's use of natural resources and generation of waste: Reduce consumption of energy, water, and raw materials; and minimize waste. Engage in inventory management, waste management and recycling programs; transition to renewable energy sources; eliminate incineration; and improve transportation strategies.
  • Institutionalize sustainability and safety: Make sustainability
    principles an organizational priority with CEO-level support.
    Integrate into all areas of the organization and its activities,
    internally and externally through leadership, education, and
    accountability and engagement in public policy and community
    education. Encourage and incorporate sustainability as an essential element in the culture of the organization.

Hospitals can demonstrate their support for the program by becoming a sponsoring organization, or by signing a pledge of endorsement, and participating in activities to implement the Healthier Hospital Agenda in their institutions. They can also participate in the online sharing of information and expertise and collaborate with other healthcare institutions to encourage and assist with sustainability efforts.

Three partner organizations — Health Care Without Harm, Practice Greenhealth, and The Center for Health Design — will provide expertise and technical assistance and will develop and implement training and other programs to help hospitals carry out the HHI agenda recommendations. Research conducted under the auspices of the program will be overseen by the Health Care Without Harm Research Collaborative, sponsored by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Further information

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative: 

The Healthier Hospitals Agenda:


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