Hospitals can save millions with sustainability programs

Hospitals can save millions with sustainability programs

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More and more health care systems these days are focusing on sustainability to cut their imprints and save money.

Hospitals are the second greatest commercial energy user behind commercial food services, according to advocacy group Practice Greenhealth, emitting roughly 8 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. They also produce more than 4.67 million tons of waste every year and use 7 percent of the country's commercial water supply.

"The operating rooms have a huge environmental footprint. They use 30 percent of the supplies for the entire hospital," Cecilia Lynn, director of sector performance and recognition for Practice Greenhealth, said to Healthcare Finance.

Fluid management programs, reformulation of operating room kits and unused tools, medical device reprocessing and HVAC setbacks for when ORs aren't in use can save $25,000 annually for just one operating room. The average hospital has 11.

John Utech, director of the Office for a Healthy Environment at the Cleveland Clinic for three and a half years, said the famed health system has done a lot over the past 10 years to become more sustainable.

The clinic has committed to a 20 percent reduction in energy usage per square foot for their buildings and has achieved 12 percent so far, saving $6 million a year in energy costs.

Their LED retrofit lighting project, which they tout as the biggest such project in health care, hinges on locally manufactured LED bulbs, which pumps money back into the community. As the lighting throughout the system converts, Utech projects they will reduce lighting costs by $3 million a year just by switching lightbulbs.

Minnesota-based HealthPartners, a large health system that employs 22,500, has seen similar savings through its own green-energy projects.

"Historically, health care hasn't really focused on energy efficiency, but there's a lot of fairly simple solutions," said Dana Slade, the system's first director of sustainability programs.

For starters, Slade sought incentives offered through their utility company to find savings. Their largest hospital has received more than $460,000 in rebates over the last five years and has saved about $1.3 million through energy-efficient equipment installed over the same period.

LED lights and variable frequency drives allow HVAC equipment to dial back output and save energy when rooms aren't in use, compounding savings over time.

The system also has invested in a solar panel grid, called a solar garden, that will net a 10 percent savings.

Utech said he launched a "Green the OR committee" when he started at Cleveland Clinic to cut back on operating room waste. Just making sure air conditioning was not being used when the operating rooms were empty saved $2 million.

Also, a lot of devices made to be single use can actually be reprocessed, resterilized and reused. Through a vendor program, the clinic has been able to reuse some of them and that's meant another $2.5 million a year saved.

Practice Greenhealth has been helping hospitals form and execute sustainability programs for nearly 20 years and officials say it doesn't take much for a health system to go green. For an easy start, hospitals can focus on recycling, waste stream management and even making sure staff is shutting off lights.

"There are tools out there and organizations to help. It's just a shift of mindset. If you put the lens of sustainability on, opportunities emerge," Utech said.

Topics: Building Owners and Managers, Consulting - Green & Sustainable Strategies and Solutions, Energy Saving Products, Healthcare - Hospitals & Medical Facilities, Healthy & Comfortable Buildings, Interiors, Sustainable Communities, Technology, Urban Planning and Design

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