10 reasons health care needs sustainability treatments

Janet Howard
February 12, 2014
Imagine a space where you feel good. Muscles relax, breathing is deeper. There is a natural feeling of gratitude and calm. Does this space lead to more positive interactions with others? Does it bring out the best in you?
Hospitals have a mission to help the elderly and the weak, but don't always walk the walk. Cancer is treated, but hazardous chemicals are found in cleaning products and furniture. Heart conditions are taken care of, but French fries and burgers are served in the cafeteria. There's a global climate-change crisis, yet hospitals are the second-highest energy consumer of any sector and generate more than 30 pounds of waste per bed per day.
Health care is in conflict with itself — in some ways, it's its own worst enemy. A sound treatment protocol has to be balanced with resource conservation and management. Here are 10 reasons to practice a better approach.
1. Human health and the environment
Climate change impacts public health, yet most facilities aren't ready to say it out loud. Hospitals cannot get in balance without a top-down stewardship strategy that aligns with the organization's goals, as a handful of hospitals have started to prove.
Wisconsin-based hospital system ThedaCare, for example, created a "sustainability leader" position and is hosting the Climate and Health Symposium to educate staff about environmental action and education. A member of Practice Greenhealth, it has signed onto all six challenges in the Healthier Hospitals Initiative(HHI), a national campaign to improve sustainability in the health-care sector.
Tenet Health also incorporates sustainability initiatives. Its Sustainability Report demonstrates a system-wide approach to better health and demonstrates how that strategy is incorporated at the local level.Advocate Healthcare, meanwhile, highlights progress meeting environmental goals in its own Sustainability Report.
2. Prevention
We've moved beyond the notion of merely treating disease and toward prevention and wellness, with several pioneering programs leading the way. Magee Womens Hospital of UPMC, for instance, teaches parents about the connection between human health and the environment through prenatal classes and its "Baby Steps to Green Parenting" program.