Sustainable Hospitals Can Help Bend the Cost Curve: Kaiser Permanente's Environmental Stewardship

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The U.S. health care system consumes massive amounts of energy and generates a mountain of waste. American hospitals alone spend more than $10 billion annually on energy, and health care facilities send 6,600 tons of trash to landfills each and every day. 

Those are sobering numbers. We as an industry can do better. 

A new Commonwealth Fund report estimates that if the health care industry conserved energy at our facilities, reduced waste, and more efficiently purchased operating supplies, we could save more than $15 billion over a decade. 

At Kaiser Permanente, we own and operate 37 hospitals and more than 600 medical centers serving 9 million members across the country. We are actively working to conserve energy, reduce waste, and as a result save money so we can better care for patients who depend on us. Our efforts in environmental stewardship include:

  • Requiring suppliers to provide environmental data using our Sustainability Scorecard. We use the tool to evaluate the sustainability of each medical item while also encouraging suppliers across the industry to provide greener products for the health care sector. 
  • Converting our IV solution bags and tubing to more eco-friendly alternatives that reduce PVC and DEHP, two industrial chemicals used in plastics that have been shown to harm human and environmental health. We purchase 4.9 million IV tubing sets and 9.2 million solution bags each year. This is expected to save close to $5 million a year through product pricing and sourcing efficiencies.
  • Saving tens of millions of dollars over the past few years in the three areas highlighted in the report: energy efficiency, waste minimization, and reprocessing. 
  • Setting a goal of achieving an absolute reduction in our greenhouse gas emissions of 30 percent by 2020.We will do that by maximizing energy efficiency of new and existing facilities, deploying more onsite renewable electricity generation—such as solar and wind power—and purchasing renewable energy from offsite sources. We currently have 11 megawatts of solar power installed at 12 Kaiser Permanente facilities.
  • Setting a goal to divert 40 percent of our waste from landfills by the end of 2015. Our electronic health record system, now in use across all of our medical facilities, dramatically decreased the use—and cost—of paper forms. 
  • In 2011 we increased our use of safely reprocessed medical devices, enabling us to avoid approximately $8.2 million in purchasing and waste disposal costs throughout the year.
  • Our Westside Medical Center in Oregon, scheduled to open next summer, is being built to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED, gold status, which incorporates some of the highest environmental standards. Our Data Center in Napa, California, achieved LEED platinum certification, the highest standard. LEED certification will save us a significant amount of money over time.

About two years ago, we were a cofounder of the "Healthier Hospitals Initiative," involving 11 health care systems with more than 500 hospitals that are committed to using less energy, creating less waste, choosing safer chemicals, and serving healthier, sustainable food. 

Our own goal has always been to be an environmentally safe and responsible care delivery organization. But it isn't enough to be green ourselves. If everyone outside of Kaiser Permanente continues to pollute and waste energy and use environmentally damaging chemicals, then the world will still suffer.

That's why we share what we do. We want a green world. That's why we created a green purchasing formula checklist and then shared it widely. That's why we share our strategies and designs with others who also want to be green.

We engage in environmental stewardship because it reduces environmental contributors to disease. It is integral to our aim to improve the health of the communities we serve. The fact that this work also reduces operating expenses is good news for our members and customers.

Be well. 

 

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