The Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) is an excellent example of how hospitals are beginning to realize that sustainable principles have a major role in the healthcare sector. Created in May of 2010, HHI is a coalition of major health systems and organizations across the nation committed to improving sustainability and safety within the healthcare sector.
One of several goals outlined in the HHI is to provide health benefits for patients, staff and the community by reducing emissions and pollution that are linked to chronic respiratory diseases. By taking the necessary steps to reduce emissions from health care facilities, hospitals are in effect actually practicing preventive health care. The reduction of emissions passed to the surrounding community translates into healthier and more productive citizens. This goal can be accomplished by focusing on the implementation of sustainable policies, including simply turning off lights in a room that is not occupied. Additionally, the health care sector can leverage its purchasing power to reduce toxic chemicals and get manufactures and suppliers to respond with safer, cost effective alternatives.
Specific areas that can be targeted for sustainable reform are outlined in the agenda referred to as Healthier Hospitals Agenda. It is a three step approach with the purpose of assisting healthcare facilities in the identification of areas in need of improvement and the incorporation of sustainable principles. The three tenets to the agenda include improving environmental health and patient safety, reducing the overall consumption of natural resources, and the institutionalization of sustainability and safety.
The first component can be accomplished by engaging in Environmentally Preferred Purchasing (EPP), reduced chemical use, continuous search for alternative sustainable products, incorporate green building upgrades, and purchase and serve healthy food and foods made in sustainable ways.
The second part of the agenda targets the consumption of natural resources and can be implemented by reducing the overall consumption of energy, water, and raw materials. Assessments of the different processes within the hospital can reveal potential cutbacks that do not affect patient safety or comfort. Inventory management is an optimal way of achieving natural resource savings within a health care facility. In addition, waste management and recycling programs can prove to be very cost effective and create a sense of pride and accomplishment among hospital staff. The transition to renewable energy sources is the best way to truly incorporate the principles of sustainability, but it can be a very costly alternative to the conventional natural gas or coal.
Lastly, sustainability principles can be made an organizational priority with CEO-level support. The integration of sustainable concepts into all areas of the organization and its activities can prove to be very effective. Leadership from the highest positions could provide the impetus for change throughout the entire facility.
Hospitals can be a better community partner in the communities where they provide health care services by being better stewards of the environment and reducing their consumption of natural resources.