Weighing in on Green Health Care

Despite the risk of being considered a “left-wing tree hugger” here is a post on how health care can go green.

Many of us may not realise this, but health care is a considerable source of environmental pollution and waste. As discussed in a recent Perspectives article in JAMA, a variety of organizations and coalitions are now coming together to help the growing number of hospitals and clinics that are adopting ways to become more efficient and less detrimental to the environment.

For e.g. Kaiser Permanente in the US, is now following the Green Guide for Health Care and has in the last 5 years chosen ecologically sustainable materials for 2.7 million sqm in new construction, preventing 70 billion lbs of air pollution each year. They have also eliminated the purchase and disposal of 40 tons of hazardous chemicals and saved more than $10 million per year through energy-conservation strategies. Interestingly, they are also making a concerted effort to buy food and products locally. (regular readers of this blog will recognize the importance of this last point – if not, click here).

Not to be outdone, Capital Health’s own Mazankowski Heart Institute, due to open in 2008, will be a “green building,” equipped with energy-saving equipment like occupancy sensors that turn off lights in empty rooms and giant heat recovery wheels that strip heat from air before it is exhausted to the outside. Capital Health estimates that these features can reduce costs to run the building by $1 million per year. The energy-saving features will also increase the likelihood of the Heart Institute becoming the first hospital in Canada to achieve LEED silver certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design).

To be LEED certified, a building earns points for innovative design features that promote a healthy environment, reduce costs and prevent wastage. For example, green spaces on the Heart Institute’s various rooftops will reduce heat reflection, and underground water tanks will collect runoff rainwater so it can be used for non-sterile tasks like hosing down sidewalks. The building will also get points for encouraging alternative, environmentally-friendly transportation through its proximity to Edmonton’s new subway station and for providing lockups for bicycles. It will have bright, open stairwells which promote use for staff and able-bodied visitors, rather than energy-expending elevators.

Although WW is certainly eons away from being the prime source of waste in the CH system, we certainly produce a lot of paper, educational and promotional materials, and do use some disposable supplies. Over time all of this can certainly accumulate in appreciable piles of waste.

For anyone wanting more information on Green Healthcare check out the following:

Health Care Without Harm: A global coalition to reduce pollution in the health care industry.

Hospitals for a Healthy Environment: Educating health care professionals about pollution prevention and environmentally sound practices.

While WW is certainly mainly about WAIST management – let’s not forget about also managing our WASTE!