Blog Post

Going green: The first step to becoming a more sustainable hospital

December 18, 2014

    Juliette Mullin, Senior Editor

    Last month, Wisconsin-based Gundersen Health System became the first U.S. health system to produce more energy than it consumed. It wasn't an easy process. In fact, it took six years of hard work and involved creating heat and electricity out of methane gas from a local landfill.

    Learn more: Health system becomes first to create more energy than it uses

    But hospitals—which traditionally are major consumers of water and energy—don't have to tap into methane gas sources to become more sustainable.

    To better understand how hospitals can launch sustainability initiatives, I sat down with Zac Stillerman, general manager of the Advisory Board's supply chain services, and Joanna Schneider, director of the company's Health Care Sustainability Initiative, to discuss the important first steps and  how environmental sustainability ties to huge cost savings for hospitals.  

    Juliette Mullin: Imagine for a moment that I'm an executive setting out to make my hospital more sustainable. What do I do first? What are some the low-hanging fruit in this space?

    Zac Stillerman: We've found that success is all about starting small and proving outcomes. So you should tackle easy, low-cost opportunities first to start proving your sustainability ROI and building environmental stewardship into the hospital culture.

    Joanna Schneider: So here are some simple steps to begin with:

    • Build your infrastructure. Establish a dedicated "green team" that can decide on tactics, implement changes, and establish incentives. One of our hospital members, an academic medical center on the East Coast, established a green team comprised of directors and above. The team was able to cut $30 million from the budget and later expand to include a second green team comprised exclusively of nurses and nursing executives.

    • Choose where to start. One area we see having a huge impact is the reduction of regulated medical waste. This "red bag waste" (RBW) is energy-intensive and very expensive to process, costing up to 30 times more than recycling. Appropriate waste segregation will reduce a hospital’s carbon emissions and costs.

    • Maximize recycling. Sticking with the waste theme, another key first step is making sure your hospital has a recycling program. If it doesn't, start one. If it does, set concrete goals to divert more solid waste to recycling. Look into recycling items that can bring in revenue, such as batteries, and high-volume items like blue wrap. Collect data from your waste vendor. Like RMW, recycling is better for the environment and less expensive to process. And it can even bring in revenue.

    The full Q&A with Zac and Joanna will run in the Daily Briefing in January.

    How we can help you

    The Advisory Board Company is fully committed to helping our members identify and implement sustainable best practices to lower costs and improve population health. We are still early in our exploration of this area, but Joanna, Zac, and their team have been building out a strategy that helps hospitals figure out where to start on a pro-bono basis.

    • Do you work on sustainability for your institution? If so, we’d love to do a 30-minute research call and potentially highlight your best practices with our members. Please email us to set up an initial conversation.
    • Are you a hospital executive who has prioritized sustainability at your institution, or wants to? Email us to set up a 30-minute conversation about how ABC can serve your needs.
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