The Triple Bottom Line: Making a Convincing Case for Sustainability

Wharton University of Pennsylvania
March 3, 2015
Sustainability can be a tough sell to financially-stressed hospitals, because many in health care still associate “green” with increased costs. But Blair Sadler, senior fellow at the Institute for Health Care Improvement, says that a Commonwealth Fund research study, to which he contributed, “turns on its head the belief that introducing environmental sustainability measures increases operating costs. In fact, it is just the opposite.”
According to Kathy Gerwig, a vice president and environmental stewardship officer at Kaiser Permanente, in her book, Greening Health Care, “There is a preponderance of evidence that a greener health care enterprise is not only affordable, but in most cases it results in an improved cost structure.” The Commonwealth research, she says, indicates that a program of energy conservation, reduced waste and more efficient purchasing could save the health care industry more than $15 billion over 10 years.
As an example, Gerwig said that because spending on processing waste (especially red bag biohazard waste) is “money down the drain” for health care institutions, programs that reduce or redirect it can have early buy in and quick payback.
Ensuring short-term savings is often key when arguing the business case for sustainability. Gary Cohen, co-founder and president of Health Care Without Harm, which campaigns for the environment, agrees that convincing health care administrators to make a sustainability decision — even when long-term savings are promised — “is a difficult challenge. For example, it’s far easier to get hospitals to invest in energy efficiency, with a return on investment of 18 months to three years, than renewable energy, with a return that can take seven years.”