What Does Environmentally Sustainable Health Care Look Like?

It’s all you’ve ever wanted to know about the greening of health care!  In our earlier post, we told you about the recent publication of the book, Greening Health Care, by Kaiser Permanente’s Kathy Gerwig.  Today, we begin a series of excerpts from the book — and we start with an introduction and overview from the preface.

The very nature of health care is changing. Health care reform, clinical innovations, electronic medical records, social connectivity, technological advances, baby boomers’ expectations about quality of life, demands for price to align with value, and ways the environment contributes to disease are some of the factors behind the changes. These changes offer profound, new opportunities to address environmental issues across the health care sector and beyond.image

In this changing landscape, what does environmentally sustainable health care look like? Let’s take an imaginary visit to a hospital for a routine doctor visit. Approaching the medical facility, the first thing we notice is that the building is smaller than we expected. There is a convenient transit stop at the front entrance. And the parking lot pavement allows rainwater to filter through to be cleaned and returned to the aquifer. We notice that instead of lawns there are native plantings that minimize water and pesticide use.

There is a garden path that takes us by a stream that was brought back to life from where it was hidden in a concrete culvert decades ago. We enjoy the birds that have rediscovered this tranquil place. You notice a labyrinth and take a meditative respite.

Once inside, we’re walking on nonvinyl, nonpolluting material on the carpets and floors, and we notice how much natural light floods into the lobby and hallways from specially designed window glass, shades, and blinds that allow sunlight in while minimizing afternoon heat. The walls are painted in soothing colors and patterns that mimic the adjoining landscape. The energy efficient lighting fixtures glow with a pleasing hue. You see a plaque on the wall indicating that the building is carbon-neutral.

In the bathroom, the toilets and sinks are water-conserving, and the soap does not contain harmful anti-bacterial agents. The paper towels are made from 100 percent recycled, post- consumer waste, and the used towels go into a compost container. In the waiting room, the fabric on the chairs was selected to avoid harmful chemicals that can cause adverse health effects.

In the exam room, your temperature and blood pressure are taken with mercury-free devices. You notice the purple exam gloves used by the clinical staff. These are latex-safe for worker and patient safety, and they are environmentally preferable.

If you are here for a biopsy, your doctor will use a rigid endoscope (for minimally invasive surgery) which is steam sterilized to avoid the use of chemicals that are hazardous to the environment and to staff.

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