New Book Explores the Green Revolution in Health Care

Can hospitals heal the planet? Kathy Gerwig thinks so.

Gerwig, who serves as Kaiser Permanente’s vice president and environmental stewardship officer, recently released a book that explores the intersections of health care and environmental stewardship, advancing the idea that health care organizations need to be addressing their environmental impact if they are truly making an impact on people’s health.

image“Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet” looks back over the nearly 20-year history of the green revolution in health care, examining the challenges and rewards of integrating sustainability into the health care sector.

“Health care has a large environmental footprint, but it can also play a crucial role in addressing the major environmental challenges of our time,” explains Gerwig. “The health of the environment is directly tied to the health of communities. By eliminating or mitigating environmental contributors to disease, we in health care can create healthier communities and help people lead healthier lives.”

Published by the Oxford University Press, “Greening Health Care: How Hospitals Can Heal the Planet” presents practical solutions for health care organizations and clinicians to improve their environments and the health of their communities. It covers topics such as climate action, making food services sustainable, managing hospital waste, greening medical buildings, and buying products that are environmentally responsible.

A major theme that permeates the book is the lessons learned through collaboration with other partners. The achievements to date in greening the health care sector have been the result of a great deal of support from other major health systems, non-governmental organizations, suppliers, and community groups.

“We have an opportunity — and an obligation — to address the impacts that health care makes on the environment,” says Gerwig. “And we can do that faster and more effectively if we work together.”

The book is now available at leading book retailers, including online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. All proceeds from the book are being donated to Health Care Without Harm, a non-profit coalition working to transform the health sector worldwide to become ecologically sustainable and a leading advocate for environmental health and justice.  You can find more information about the book here.

The Impact of the Health Care Sector on our Environment

It is understood that health care activities as a whole contribute 8 percent of the United States’ total greenhouse gas emissions — known contributors to climate change and the rise of pollution and disease. In its ongoing commitment to improve the health of the communities it serves, Kaiser Permanente recently announced a commitment to reducing its reliance on fossil fuels and trimming overall energy consumption.

Kaiser Permanente registered approximately 819,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions during its baseline year of measuring (2008), and total emissions increased to 837,000 metric tons in 2010, the most recently reported year. The organization is now rolling out an aggressive strategy to reduce its overall greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent by 2020, compared to its 2008 levels. The strategy includes plans to invest in clean and renewable energy sources while also targeting energy conservation measures, as well as green-building techniques in the construction of new buildings.

More info on this news is in this video from Kaiser Permanente.

Making our Health Care Environments Healthier

We talk a lot about healthy environments on this blog, and one important aspect of that is the greening of the health care sector.  Looking at the connection between environmental health and public health can lead hospitals and health care organizations to move toward green purchasing practices and more sustainable energy solutions.  In 2010, Kaiser Permanente launched its Sustainability Scorecard – the first of its kind in health care and a model for green purchasing in the sector.  The scorecard evaluates the health and environmental impacts of each medical item the organization purchases; it also encourages vendors and suppliers across the United States to provide greener products, and it requires them to provide information on their own company’s environmental commitment – including package recycling and the use of potentially harmful chemicals in their products (or the making and disposal of them).

This week, Kaiser Permanente took another step in its green efforts by converting its intravenous (IV) medical equipment, including IV solution bags and IV tubing, to more eco-friendly alternatives that are free of PVC (polyvinyl chloride) and DEHP (Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate), two chemicals used in plastics that have been shown to harm human and environmental health. Kaiser Permanente purchases 4.9 million IV tubing sets and 9.2 million solution bags per year. This single step affects nearly 100 tons of medical products.  The move also saves the organization close to $5 million a year, proving that going green can have a positive effect on health care costs.

Learn more in the video below.

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