Sustainable Business Consulting

The Healthcare Industry is Taking on Climate Change. Here’s How.

The Intersection of Sustainability and Resiliency at CleanMed 2019

CleanMed, hosted by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, is the premier conference to advance sustainability in the healthcare industry. Healthcare leaders from all corners of the U.S. come together to discuss the challenges, trends and opportunities facing the industry, from climate impacts to waste streams to plant-based diets.

Following yet another year full of natural disasters and extreme weather events filling hospital beds beyond capacity, the 2019 CleanMed conference had a tone of urgency and resiliency underscoring each session.

As a strategic sustainability consulting firm, this was music to our ears – and I’m not just talking about the actual live music being played all throughout our conference in Nashville! The health threats of climate are mounting and undeniable, and in our quest for inspiring sustainable business practices, climate resiliency in healthcare is near the top of our list.

The concept of resilience is universal through all industries, though understandably heightened for a hospital that is expected to operate through the worst conditions. If you’re having trouble making the case for sustainability to your executive team, try the following tactics to approach it from the perspective of avoiding physical and financial risk onset by changes in our climate:

1. Incorporate Natural Light

  • Sustainability Lens: Natural lighting reduces the need for as many and/or as powerful artificial lights and naturally heats and cools your building, reducing the emissions caused by HVAC systems
  • Resilience Lens: In the event that all utilities are down, your building would still be operational during daylight hours, and the reduced load allows you to operate longer on backup power.
  • Financial Lens: Removing lightbulbs and reducing the load on the HVAC system results in lower operational costs. Additionally, many studies have agreed that higher exposure to natural light reduces a patient’s average length of stay, allowing the hospital to see more patients

CleanMed, hosted by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, is the premier conference to advance sustainability in the healthcare industry.

2. Install Renewable Energy

  • Sustainability Lens: Switching to renewable power helps to lower your greenhouse gas emissions footprint and transition to clean energy. See how Advocate Aurora Health is getting to 100% renewable power!
  • Resilience Lens: If your local power grid is compromised, your building will still be operational using your on-site renewable source. Read about Boston Medical Center’s Cogeneration Plant to increase resiliency.
  • Financial Lens: The cost of renewable energy is now lower than traditional power and if you supply more energy than your building uses, utilities will pay you for the excess power you’ve contributed to the grid.

CleanMed, hosted by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, is the premier conference to advance sustainability in the healthcare industry.

3. Reduce & Reprocess Clinical Materials Where Possible

  • Sustainability Lens: Reducing inputs, such as distilling solvents or re-analyzing the number of instruments needed in various procedure packs for the Operating Room, and reusing non-contaminated materials or installing a sterilization cart washer contributes to lower virgin material extraction and production, lowering your environmental impact
  • Resilience Lens: In the event that your supplier is affected by a natural disaster, or your own building is impacted, and sources are low, you will continue to stay operational when others are at risk for running out of clinical materials. See how Intermountain Healthcare made the case for reusable medical devices and educated its clinicians on the sterility.
  • Financial Lens: Reducing the materials purchased lowers your percent spend on clinical supplies, while switching to reprocessed devices or reusable containers can reduce both purchase and disposal costs. One hospital reduced their annual spend by $37,000 from switching to reusable Operating Room kit containers. See how University of Vermont Medical Center is saving money and saving the environment through reprocessing.

CleanMed, hosted by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, is the premier conference to advance sustainability in the healthcare industry.

4. Grow Your Own Food, Catch Your Own Water

  • Sustainability Lens: On-site gardens reduce the environmental footprint of your cafeterias and offer healthy, packaging-free alternatives to what is typically ordered through a Group Purchasing Organization (GPO). Using rain barrels to catch your own grey water reduces the stormwater runoff, known to pollute our waterways
  • Resilience Lens: Gardens can provide a source of fresh food if delivery routes are compromised, and rainwater catchment provides a source of water for consumption and/or use to continue operations
  • Financial Lens: Reduced purchasing, reduced re-admission for heart disease or obese patients, and lower water bills. See what pioneers like Seattle Children’s and others are saving (and profiting) by growing their own gardens

CleanMed, hosted by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, is the premier conference to advance sustainability in the healthcare industry.

5. Think Smart About Your Buildings

  • Sustainability Lens: Enhanced building envelopes reduce the amount of energy needed to heat and cool your building. Permeable pavement alleviates the impacts of development on our lands and reduces the amount of polluted stormwater runoff
  • Resilience Lens: Strong building envelopes will guard against dust, ash, and other particulate matter from entering your building, allowing for operations despite low quality of outdoor air. Permeable pavement reduces your risk of flooding and damaged access routes
  • Financial Lens: Lower HVAC energy needs result in lower energy cost, while lower stormwater runoff lowers sewage utility expenses. Read about Cleveland Clinic’s journey with permeable pavement.

CleanMed, hosted by Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, is the premier conference to advance sustainability in the healthcare industry.

If you’re looking for more ways to build the business case, consider conducting a sustainability audit of your operations to identify ways to add resilience into your sustainability strategy.  

For hospitals specifically, there are two industry resources to guide you towards climate smart health care:

  1. Health Care Without Harm released their Safe Haven in the Storm report
  2. The World Bank released their Climate-Smart Healthcare report
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