Going green isn’t just about recycling. Nor is it all about saving the environment. A strong green initiative reduces wastefulness, increases efficiency, aids the budget (especially in the long-term), and provides a healthier place to work.

Unfortunately, healthcare’s “green credentials” leave something to be desired. As pointed out by Philip Landrigan, physician and director of the Global Public Health Program at Boston College, Physician’s Weekly: “Since healthcare organizations are in the overall business of promoting good health, they should be leading by example. They feel they have a noble mission, which they do, but we think they should make advances in sustainability as a secondary issue. We now know that when the environment is not healthy it affects people adversely. Air pollution causes asthma, for example. Toxic chemicals can cause cancer.”

There are hundreds of ways healthcare can “lead by example” and reduce its impact on the environment. Here are six to consider:

1. Use Less Paper

It’s a wonder the entire rainforest hasn’t already been eaten up by the healthcare industry alone. Why? There are literally thousands of slips of paper found in a typical hospital: paper charts, admission forms, discharge papers, insurance forms, patient surveys, medical histories, prescription writs, patient instructions, FAQs, and doctor’s orders.

A first, and very easy step, for going paperless is make sure everyday paperwork doesn’t have to exist at all. Start by deploying enough medical tablets throughout the facility. Trees are saved as patients sign consent forms on a tablet (which can then be immediately, securely backed up, as well as sent wherever it needs to go) and doctors send instructions right to the patient’s email address. Even something as benign as taking a food order, typically a paper process, can be done on a tablet or entered directly into a bedside patient infotainment system.

Of course, laws, traditions, and regulations mean that paper isn’t going to 100 percent go away. Hospitals can thus reduce this paper waste very simply by looking into paper-shredding companies that are committed to recycling those shredded documents (and also ensuring that the sensitive information therein is destroyed). Companies like Iron Mountain Shredding have been known to keep half a billion tons of paper out of landfills every year.

2. Research the Manufacturer of Your Medical Computers

Do you know how the devices you bring into the hospital affect the environment?

Before ordering units from a company, or deciding what company to purchase units from, check for their environmental compliance. Some medical computer companies will have a page on their website that outlines their environmental practices. Look to see, for instance, if their packaging materials are made from recyclable materials. Or if they have a robust policy of refurbishment and trade-ins to facilitate PC recycling.

Verify if they belong to any green organizations, programs, or both. Companies like Cybernet Manufacturing have made sure its products are Energy Star certified. That means they have met the strict energy efficiency guidelines as laid out by both the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Energy. Businesses who use Energy Star certified products not only help the environment by using less power but can save thousands annually. 

Determining a company’s practices in environmental friendliness may take a little research, but ultimately is worth it. 

3. Keep Building Green

Going green in healthcare can start from the ground up. Literally. The building itself can be built to more energy efficient standards and use more environmentally-friendly materials. New and existing buildings that have received LEED building certification, for instance, means they have gone through the process to find out how to operate more efficiently.

If you are not interested in securing such certification, even small changes to your facility can have noticeable effects. Creating a sustainable roof garden for a hospital can reduce the need for air-conditioning in the warmer months. A layer of trees, bushes, flowers, or other vegetation not only absorbs sunlight that would otherwise be baking into the roof, but also removes heat from the air through the process of evapotranspiration.

4. Conserve Water and Power with Minor Upgrades

Power bills hardly come cheap for hospitals which operate 24/7. And medical and therapy devices like whirlpools and linear accelerators use a great deal of water. Thus it behooves healthcare facilities to conserve both through a few small changes and policy alterations.

Power use can be reduced through a myriad of ways. Low-energy medical computers not only use less power, but they generate less heat, which means they don’t strain the HVAC as much.

Hospitals tend to overlook their lighting system so even something as simple as replacing old lighting units with new LEDs can save loads of energy.

Having an HVAC technician occasionally come through and inspect a facility’s system and ductwork, even when there isn’t an immediate maintenance need, can help find inefficiencies in the system.

As for saving on water, consider upgrading dishwashers, toilets, and similar appliances that may not be operating under modern conservation standards. This goes doubly for the above-mentioned whirlpools and linear accelerators: have them inspected regularly for leaks, and replace them with more efficient models whenever possible.

5. Craft a Sustainable Supply Chain

The supply chain of any healthcare facility can be a tricky, multi-headed hydra. Everything from drugs, equipment, linens, food, plastics, tools, to disposables are streaming into hospitals or doctors’ offices all the time. While modern infrastructure has made this all pretty seamless, there’s no denying that every vehicle driven in the chain uses a great deal of fuel in transportation.

A tight system of organization is the most effective way to “slay” this hydra. Ensure that shipments are bunched together (to decrease unnecessary fuel use), and that the right equipment and supplies are being ordered (to prevent waste or returns). 

And once this inventory has arrived, a strong asset-tracking strategy goes a long way toward maximizing organizational efficiency. Medical tablets with built-in barcode scanners and RFID readers, combined with a good management system, can be used to keep a living, breathing inventory document alive. The user simply scans inventory at arrival, when it goes into storage, and finally when it gets used. These tablets create a database that not only lists the amount of inventory and their use, but where they are located, too. Thus it’s important the details are securely stored and encrypted.

6. Haste Makes Waste

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities create a huge amount of waste ranging from standard trash, medical waste, packaging, to dozens of other easily-forgotten avenues. According to the World Health Organization, just over half of healthcare facilities have “adequate systems in place for the safe disposal of healthcare waste.” And considering that the EPA puts medical waste at something close to twenty-three pounds per hospital bed per day, there is a shocking volume to deal with. Worse, when this waste is not properly disposed of, toxins and hazardous chemicals can leach into landfills, groundwater, and even into the air depending on the chemical nature of the toxin in question.

A few simple changes can make a massive difference in such a large and constant stream of waste. Deploying medical asset tracking systems to keep track of inventory is a great way to find discrepancies and to correct any issues.

Finally, the best way to reduce waste is through proper and intensive staff training. Frequent tests and reminder exams on devices like medical tablets and medical computers (of course) and using them to track results and calculate when it’s time to re-up training can save loads of time.

The healthcare industry, as Dr. Landrigan pointed out earlier in this post, is in the business of promoting good health. While this is usually viewed only for patients, there is nothing in that goal that is mutually exclusive with green initiatives.  Whether you’re deeply concerned about the polar ice caps, the local health of the community, or even just your hospital’s bottom line, reducing waste and maximizing efficiency — while at the same time beautifying the surroundings inside and outside of the healthcare facility — can make a huge difference in both the short and long-term.

To learn more about green policies and environmentally-friendly technology, contact Cybernet today.