While the main function of hospitals and other healthcare facilities is to provide care for patients, they also have a role to play in protecting the environment. This article looks at a few steps that healthcare businesses and non-profit organizations can take to boost their green credentials.
What Is a Green Business?
Before looking at specific measures that hospitals and other healthcare facilities can take, it’s worth defining a “green business”. In simple terms, a green (or sustainable) organization balances its business aims with those of the environment. Examples include minimizing greenhouse gas emissions, cutting water usage, and reducing waste. These principles also apply to non-profit organizations, which have different demands and obligations, but also have a considerable environmental footprint.
As with any business or organization looking to improve its environmental footprint, the first step for healthcare facilities is to conduct an environmental audit. This simply involves making a list of business operations and looking at how they can be made less impactful. Measures that hospitals and healthcare facilities might consider are seeking out renewable sources of energy, electrifying the vehicle fleet, and switching to more environmentally friendly cleaning products.
Of course, unlike many sectors, the challenges for healthcare organizations are to make changes that do not compromise patient safety. They might also be limited in their autonomy. For example, health organizations that are part of a group might have centralized logistics operations, so cannot make any changes without the whole group’s support.
Recycling & Reusing Items
An important way that hospitals and healthcare facilities can go green (or greener) is to look at how they could dispose of the waste they generate through reuse or recycling. Indeed, from personal protective equipment (PPE) and disposable medical curtains to medical devices and equipment, organizations and businesses in the health sector are increasingly looking for alternatives to landfill or incineration. Since the pandemic, there have been increased calls for finding ways of recycling PPE and other plastic-based items, with technologies being developed to make the process easier and more cost-effective.
While there are rules and regulations on the disposal of hazardous medical waste, there are plenty of options for recycling single-use items that have not come into contact with patients, as well as for refurbishing or reusing items. Most healthcare facilities should have in place procedures for cleaning and sanitizing equipment and devices, to ensure the items are safe for reuse.
As well as changes that hospitals and healthcare facilities can introduce within their own day-to-day operations, there are third-party services to consider. The healthcare sector may outsource many of its services, such as transportation, cleaning, and catering. When looking at measures to make an organization or business greener, it is important to ask questions about these third-party contractors and to assess whether they are similarly committed to operating in a more environmentally conscious way.
To put all this in perspective, globally, in 2019, healthcare contributed around 4.4% of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions. While this is just one element of measuring an organization’s green credentials, it does highlight that healthcare as a sector can make a significant impact when it comes to protecting the planet.