Most businesses these days are at least marginally interested in “going green.” Some of them want to support environmental protection efforts that are becoming increasingly necessary on an international scale. Some of them want to be a part of the trend, or are looking to cash in on the public image benefits that go along with becoming environmentally friendly. Even businesses who aren’t after these goals are interested in going green, purely for the sake of reducing the cost of resources and operating more efficiently.
Still, it’s harder for some businesses and organizations to “go green” than it is for others, and the healthcare industry faces particular challenges in this regard.
Why It’s Hard for Healthcare Organizations to Go Green
Why do healthcare organizations have a harder time going green than other organizations?
– Tight funding. For many healthcare organizations, going green simply isn’t practical because funds are already limited. This is especially true for nonprofit organizations, who won’t be able to afford things like solar panels or other massive institutions.
– Energy demands. Most “green” strategies involve reducing the energy demands of a facility, but in hospitals and healthcare organizations, energy is needed to keep people alive and healthy. This priority can’t be sacrificed.
– Bureaucratic decision making processes. Many healthcare organizations are massive and decisions are subject to multiple levels of approval, slowing down the potential adoption process for new changes.
– Higher priorities. The lives and health of patients are often in the balance, and energy efficiency often deservedly takes a backseat to those priorities. A technological investment for a new diagnostic tool is often more valuable and more important than a similar investment for a more efficient piece of equipment.
Strategies for Success
Fortunately, there are a number of ways that hospitals and other healthcare organizations can improve their environmental friendliness:
1. Adopt a paperless medical records system. One of your first steps is to finish your conversion to a paperless medical records system. Older medical records systems relied on stacks of paper for every patient, kept dutifully and indefinitely, wasting tons of paper each year and occupying vast amounts of physical space. Digital systems are easier to manage, easier to store and retrieve, and most importantly for a green organization—they don’t require any physical resources to maintain.
2. Source food and resources locally. Most healthcare facilities offer a cafeteria or some kind of food for their patients. Those that don’t have requirements for other resources, from clothing to furniture, to keep their organization running smoothly. If you can, opt to source these items locally. Locally sourced food tends to be riper, more nutritious, and tastier, but more importantly, it cuts down on the massive amounts of energy and waste needed to transport other kinds of food.
3. Utilize efficient means of waste disposal. Healthcare organizations produce many kinds of waste, which is unpreventable. However, you can institute new systems to minimize and manage your waste disposal. A simple recycling program can help you cut back on your overall waste, but the real problem comes in sanitization processes, which are necessary for various forms of medical waste. Seek energy-efficient forms of medical waste disposal whenever possible, and increase your knowledge on alternative methods, such as autoclaving and chemical treatment instead of incineration.
4. Use greener cleaning products. Most hospitals and healthcare organization demand high standards of cleanliness, which in turn demand reliance on cleaning products. However, you have a choice in what types of cleaning products you use, and some are better for the environment than others. Keep a close eye on the chemicals used in each of your products, as well as the types of waste they generate, and make your purchasing decisions accordingly.
5. Conserve water where possible. This is a tough change for healthcare organizations, but even small tweaks can make a big difference. For example, reducing the amount of water used in a single flush or single shower can add up to a massive reduction in overall water use on a larger scale.
6. Keep your staff informed of your overall impact. Simply raising the awareness of your staff can bear a massive impact on your bottom-line environmental friendliness. For example, helping them use fewer resources to complete a job—such as less water or lower amounts of cleaning products—can eventually add up and have a massive impact on your organization’s bottom-line efficiency. Instituting these habit changes is difficult, since there’s no easy way to monitor their adherence, but a simple training seminar can help instill a better environmentally-friendly mentality among your workers.
Few of these changes require massive infrastructural improvements, new rules, new regulations, or significant sums of money to instate. In fact, most of them can be instituted with minimal disruptions to your ordinary processes, looking instead toward minor changes in outlook and behavior. Start small, with a few new systems and greater institutional awareness, and eventually you can scale your way up to something bigger.