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'Green Hospital' Has a Double Meaning

Philip Betbeze, for HealthLeaders Media, August 7, 2009

I was always taught "green" principles growing up, although you would never confuse my family with the stereotypical group of hippies that one usually imagines when the issue of environmentalism comes up. Not by a long shot. It was all about being grateful for what you've been given and not wasting it, and saving money.

Now, "green" is the new cool. It's trendy to shop with reusable grocery bags—my family does it—partly for the 6 cents a bag credit we get at the grocery store. It's trendy to recycle—we do that too. Nashville makes it easy with a curbside recycling program. But in my family, being "green" was less about conserving the environment and more about saving money—the other kind of green.

My dad was born in the Great Depression and his parents, along with just about everyone else at the time, saved and reused everything they could. They were middle class, but being middle class back then meant a roof over your head, food on the table, and perhaps an old car. One of the first things I ever remember him saying to me when I was a child was "use what you have before opening another one," in regard to bath soap, shampoo, leftovers—you name it. It's a lesson that's stuck—to the point that my wife makes fun of me for squeezing leftover ketchup packets into the big bottle. Rightly so, probably. But that waste not, want not ethos was something that was instilled into me from an early age and it's probably not going anywhere.

Similarly, many of the appeals you hear nowadays to "go green" come from people who mail you stuff. Banks, investment firms, and bill collectors encourage you to "go green," by agreeing to accept correspondence in electronic format instead of paper. I have no problem with that, but let's be frank: in these cases, "going green" has more to do with saving those companies money on printing and postage than any desire to save the earth. The environmental message is just a beneficial side-effect and a marketing tool.

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