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Hospitals' Sustainability Managers Look for Savings through Better Environmental Practices

Scott Wallask, for HealthLeaders Media, March 19, 2010

Many hospitals already have green teams of ecology-minded employees who strategize ways to reduce waste and energy consumption, but some medical centers have taken things a step further by creating a full-time position for the management of environmental initiatives, typically called a "sustainability officer" or "sustainability manager."

The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) in Baltimore and Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming, MI, have set up Web sites discussing their green initiatives and have plugged into national group Practice Greenhealth's initiatives.

The green movement is widespread enough that several universities now offer degree programs specializing in sustainable business practices. John Ebers, LEED AP, CEM, sustainable business officer at Metro Health, graduated from such a program at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI.

Among its green projects, Metro Health put in a vegetative roof for one of its buildings that used plants and not shingles.

That project will pay off in 15 years, Ebers said, and was part of several initiatives that helped the facility earn a 2009 Practice Greenhealth Environmental Leadership Circle Award, the highest honor the ecologically oriented healthcare association gives.

A trio of benefits from sustainability
Denise Choiniere, RN, BSN, sustainability manager at UMMC, said that when someone's tracking sustainability at a hospital, the payoffs can come in three main areas:

  • Energy conservation. Using less electricity, gas, oil, and water probably is the biggest ways to cut costs and lessen a facility's ecological footprint.
  • Waste reduction. Sustainability officers have more time to help "sort the trash," creating systems in which fewer truckloads of red bag waste get hauled away. There are also benefits from general trash reduction (e.g., recycling blue sterile wrap instead of tossing it out).
  • Purchasing practices. Smart purchasing can turn waste into recyclables and cut costs. At UMMC, Choiniere now orders DEHP-free IV tubing that not only gets potentially unhealthy chemicals out of patient care, but also is recyclable whereas the previous tubing wasn't, she said. Therefore, that tubing purchase incurs no disposal cost, saving about $8,000 per year.

Scott Wallask is senior managing editor for the Hospital Safety Center. He can be reached at swallask@hcpro.com.

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