According to estimates, the global healthcare industry contributes 1% – 5% of the human environmental impact. Despite this significant contribution, sustainability is often ignored by most healthcare organizations’ policy statements. Climate change is no longer an arbitrary concept, we are already feeling the impacts of global warming. This is why all sectors of the economy need to begin implementing sustainability as a core value.
Luckily, for owners and managers of healthcare facilities, being eco-friendly is an achievable target. Healthcare facilities can adopt sustainable practices without compromising on quality service delivery and profitability. This guide will provide actionable tips for healthcare organizations looking to adopt an eco-friendlier approach.
Purchase Food From Local and Organic Sources
Most people don’t realize how high the healthcare industry’s demand for food is. Hospitals, clinics, psychiatric facilities, and nursing homes have to feed their staff, patients, and visitors. Larger facilities can truck in tonnes of food every week. Therefore, how healthcare facilities source their food impacts their overall environmental impact.
Research has consistently shown that organic farming has a lower environmental impact when compared to conventional farming. Pesticides, chemical fertilizers, and other synthetic inputs are not used in organic farming. All of these chemicals cause long-term damage to the environment and the surrounding ecosystems.
Apart from reducing environmental contamination, organic food does not expose eaters to these harmful chemicals. Many studies have also shown that organically grown food is more nutritious.
Transportation is one of the key contributors to the farming industry’s carbon footprint. Healthcare facilities that are committed to sustainability need to source their food locally. The fewer miles food travels, the lower its carbon footprint is.
Use Food Digesters to Process Food Waste
Healthcare facilities not only consume a lot of food, but they also generate a lot of food waste. This is especially true for hospitals, nursing homes, and other facilities that offer in-patient care. The sick often struggle to finish their meals. This suppressed appetite could either be due to their illnesses or a side effect of their medication. This food waste can overwhelm existing waste management systems.
Food digesters are compost systems that can handle all kinds of food waste. They are designed to mask foul odors and repel pests. The facilities can use the produced compost as an organic fertilizer or sell it to local farmers to recoup some of the costs of maintaining the system.
Have an Effective Medical Waste Management System
Medical waste management is one of the biggest challenges for a sustainable healthcare facility. In this context, medical waste refers to waste containing blood, bodily fluids, human tissue, and other contaminants whose disposal and destruction are regulated.
Traditionally, healthcare facilities use incinerators to destroy most types of medical waste. These are bad for the environment as the fumes add to the greenhouse gas emissions and overall air pollution. Other disposal methods, such as landfills, create the risk of these biohazards contaminating the environment.
There are promising developments in the creation of less polluting incinerator systems. Healthcare facilities can also use medical waste management facilities that have certified eco-friendly disposal practices.
It can also help to keep medical waste separate from ‘normal’ waste which can be recycled or safely disposed of. This requires medical waste collection bins to be located separately from other waste bins and to be clearly labeled and colored. This makes it easier to have a targeted and efficient medical waste management policy.
Have a Sustainable Procurement Policy
A healthcare facility’s commitment to sustainability must extend to its purchasing decisions. Healthcare facilities Purchase medication, medical equipment, office supplies, vehicles/ambulances, protective equipment, uniforms, and much more. A sustainable procurement policy means buying sustainable products and buying from vendors/suppliers who are committed to sustainability.
There are many factors and characteristics to look out for when buying sustainable products. You could buy products that are recyclable or products made from recycled raw materials. When it comes to vehicles, you could buy those with low-emissions or hybrid and electric engines. Suppliers with sustainable manufacturing practices should be preferred.
Similarly, eco-friendly healthcare organizations need to partner with like-minded organizations throughout their supply chains. A key part of the partner vetting process should be enquiring about their commitment to sustainability.
Supporting sustainable suppliers and manufacturers creates an incentive for other businesses to adopt sustainability to gain a competitive advantage.
Reduce Water Consumption
Water consumption is often overlooked in key discussions on sustainability. Clean water is a limited and valuable resource that should be conserved. Healthcare organizations require a lot of water to operate.
For starters, they have heightened standards when it comes to cleanliness. Hospital floors, surfaces, equipment, beddings, and utensils are all cleaned regularly sometimes multiple times a day. We also have to consider the water used in sanitation, cooking, irrigation, and drinking.
Hospitals can reduce their water usage by setting up water recycling plants and rainwater collection systems for water to be used for cleaning and irrigation purposes. Low flow faucets, showerheads, and toilets also go a long way towards reducing water wastage.
Foster a Culture of Sustainability
The best way for any organization to truly impact the world around it is by making sustainability one of its core guiding principles. Being eco-friendly is not something one does, it is something one becomes. The first step towards achieving a culture of sustainability is by creating an eco-friendly workplace culture.
Employees should be encouraged to work towards achieving a paperless operation. Energy wastage should be limited, and energy-saving electrical equipment and fixtures should be preferred. Office operations should limit travel, with video conferencing, and even telecommuting, being encouraged. Employees that have to commute should be encouraged to carpool, or better yet, use public transport. This is not an exhaustive list. Healthcare organizations need to research widely on policy changes that could help them improve their overall sustainability.
The Final Word
The healthcare industry has an important role to play in environmental sustainability. Healthcare facilities can take the eco-friendly approach by making policy changes and adopting sustainable practices. Buying organic and locally produced food impacts the overall carbon footprint of their operations. Efficient food waste and medical waste management strategies also have a positive impact on their environmental impact.
To achieve sustainability, healthcare facilities need to buy sustainable products and support suppliers and vendors who share their commitment to environmental sustainability. This incentivizes more businesses to become eco-friendly. Water consumption needs to be managed by low-cost innovations such as rainwater collection systems and simple water recycling plants.
More importantly, the healthcare industry needs to adopt an overall culture of sustainability that has to be reflected in how it operates. The good news is that there are many resources available to support healthcare businesses looking to become more eco-friendly.
About the Guest Author
This article was written by Conor O’Flynn of O’Flynn Medical. O’Flynn Medical is a leading supplier of medical equipment and wellness products to the Irish market.