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Hospitals cut their environmental impact

Updated: May 29, 2013 7:48AM

They’re huge, open 24 hours a day and usually have thousands of employees and patients inside.

It’s no wonder, then, that large hospitals tend to consume large amounts of energy, waste and other things that can hurt the environment.

For instance, a 2013 report done by Healthier Hospitals Initiative estimated that hospitals and health systems produce a whopping 14,000 tons of waste per day taking care of patients, generating an average of 31 pounds of waste per staffed bed every day

But many hospitals have made changes to reduce their environmental footprint.

Rush University Medical Center, for example, has its own compost heap that reduces the hospital’s amount of trash, green roofs that reduce how much water is needed and the butterfly shape of its building that allows a lot of natural light, which reduces the need for electric lighting. Even the mops to clean were switched to microfiber mops, which Rush said saves them 500,000 gallons of water per year.

The earth has limited resources, so the goal of things like water and fossil fuels, which is used to produce energy, is to minimize their use.

Michael Wisniewski, Rush’s director of medical center engineering, said it was a no-brainer to design their new building “green” when they opened it in 2012.

“I think it makes everybody feel better about what they’re doing,” Wisniewski said. “You feel like you’re being a steward of the environment.”

Advocate Health Care, meanwhile, has focused on reducing waste at all of its 10 hospitals. Not all medical products, like needles, can be recycled, because the state requires that biohazard wastes be disposed of in a specific way for safety. But since 2008, Advocate has recycled close to 30 percent of its overall waste in part by created accountability for how much waste each hospital reduced and tied managers’ performance goals to these outcomes. Mary Larsen, Advocate’s system environmental stewardship manager, estimates that it was recycling around 10 percent of total waste in 2008 before the changes.

At the same time, Advocate says it has reduced it’s energy consumption by 14.5 percent by putting in light bulbs that use less energy, amongst other things.

For its achievements, Advocate was cited in the 2013 Milestone Report released this month by Healthier Hospitals Initiative, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact by hospitals and health systems.

And many other hospitals switched to light bulbs that use less energy, while the new Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago has a green roof, which helps remove air pollutants and reduce the energy needed to heat or cool the building.

The hospitals that have made changes say that, for the most part, the changes weren’t both environmentally-friendly and cost-friendly. The University of Chicago Medical Center gave the example of a project where they reinsulated a number of steam and condensate valves at a cost of about $143,000, in order to save an estimated $107,000 a year by reducing energy consumption.

“A lot of times, it’s investment up front, but there’s payoff down the road,” Wisniewski said. “It’s not just the right thing to do, but from a business perspective, it’s the right thing to do.”

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