How Hospitals are Going Green in 2024

Hospitals contribute immensely to climate change. However, there’s no higher duty than protecting human health. What measures are these institutions taking to go greener while preserving the quality of care? Quite a few,  from building upgrades to changing practices. Let’s take a closer look at how hospitals are going green in 2024.

Waste, Climate Change and the Medical Industry

The medical industry accounts for roughly 8.5% of the nation’s carbon footprint. Waste comes from the power it takes to run equipment, the single-use plastics used to maintain a sterile environment, driving ambulances and keeping the lights and heat running.

Triage is a critical concept in medical care, and taking care of patient safety reigns supreme. However, it’s possible to practice the healing arts while minimizing the impact on Mother Earth. Using today’s tech to solve problems improves care for patients and the planet.

What are some concrete measures hospitals have taken and continue to build upon in 2024? Here are seven areas in which hospitals are going green.

1. Improved Energy Efficiency

Hospitals use a lot of power, and it isn’t all for the bright overhead fluorescent lights. Cooling and ventilation draw the lion’s share, like a home — but the sterility requirements mean far higher usage. The filters are far thicker, scouring germs down to the tiniest micron, which means it takes more energy to keep the air flowing.

Improvements often come from seemingly minor upgrades, such as replacing burned-out bulbs with lower-energy LEDs and sealing ducts against leaks. Institutions can quantify such savings by adding a green fund budget item that reflects the savings from these and larger upgrades that improve more complex mechanical aspects of the system.

Seeing what the payoff can purchase provides a visible incentive for sustainability. It also provides fodder for positive PR. Despite ongoing patient outcry about the high cost of medical care, industry experts anticipate prices will increase another 7% this year. Indicating the measures a facility has taken to reduce prices on patient bills improves public perception of how the institution manages its money.

2. Switching to Renewable Energy Sources

Visitors to the Carl T. Hayden Veterans Medical Center in Phoenix don’t need to worry about their car’s paint fading in the triple-digit heat. That’s because the complex receives a good deal of its power from its parking lot, covered in solar panels. The facility has taken other sustainability upgrades, resulting in an impressive 99/100 Energy Star rating.

This hospital is one of many going green in 2024 by switching to renewable energy sources. Seattle-based Swedish Health Services recently partnered with Vancouver Energy to modernize their infrastructure to reduce emissions by 9,000 tons of carbon per year — the equivalent of removing 1,800 cars from the road. Their long-term goal is to go carbon-negative by 2030.

3. Better Waste Management Practices

Hospitals generate a ton of waste. Much of it is unavoidable. As much as you may try to reduce single-use plastic in daily life, for example, it has enormous value in medical centers for preserving sterility.

Fortunately, medical personnel already sort sharps into appropriate containers without a second thought — adding recycling to the mix is one simple way hospitals can go green. Touching upon proper waste disposal in training also helps. The Farabi Hospital in Malekan-city, Iran, is one such example. After consulting with waste management and training their team, they reduced their general waste by 27.7% in terms of garbage bags and 23.4% by weight.

4. Water Conservation

You might fail to realize how much water hospitals use. Hot water and steam serve vital purposes in sterilizing the facility and various instruments, and traditionally, excess heat loss occurs through the pipes.

Recapturing this heat to maintain consistent internal temperatures inside the building is nothing new. The problem is that demand for heat increases in the colder months, which means the excess goes to waste over the summer. However, many facilities have recently upgraded, relying more on hot water than steam and introducing summer boilers that have higher turn-down capacities to reduce production when not needed.

5. Transportation Emissions Reduction

Many hospitals have switched to all-electric ambulance fleets or plan to make similar upgrades in the coming years. Such vehicles eliminate emissions on the road, greening the emergency transport process.

Telehealth is another vital way that hospitals reduce emissions. This innovation’s contribution to going green is often overlooked but makes a difference. It extends beyond preventing rural patients from driving long distances. Hospitals that implement nurse call lines where patients can get advice over what conditions warrant immediate attention and which can improve with at-home care reduce unnecessary visits.

6. Sustainable Food Practices

Food production and distribution also contribute to climate change, and it’s here that common sense efforts by hospital personnel make highly visible improvements. For example, relying on plant-based sources for protein, like lentils and chickpeas, in patient meals reduces the carbon footprint of dinner hour while potentially improving health outcomes. Research suggests that a plant-based diet may lower cholesterol and benefit cardiovascular health.

Improving how hospitals serve food also matters. For example, some patients may need to sip from a straw, but going without one when possible or using a paper version when necessary reduces waste. Bamboo and hemp create disposable plates that are far kinder to the planet than those made from trees or plastic.

7. Education and Outreach

Finally, hospitals can make a considerable difference in overall sustainability through continued staff professional development and patient education. The improvements at the Farabi Hospital illustrate the incredible power of reviewing proper waste disposal techniques in reducing a facility’s overall footprint.

Patient education may make the most difference, as many people fail to see the connection between climate change and health. Educating providers about simple, sustainable measures anyone can take regardless of socioeconomic resources empowers them to share this information with those they treat — and many lay people give the opinion of health professionals considerable weight. Making it personal and meaningful to the patient is key.

For example, many patients resent a doctor’s suggestion to lose weight to improve health outcomes, as they already know the extra pounds aren’t beneficial. However, sharing helpful hints and recipes about more sustainable and nourishing foods could accomplish the same objective while also encouraging greater eco-friendliness in the kitchen. It’s also friendlier and builds a better rapport between provider and patient.

Hospitals Going Green in 2024

The health care industry contributes to climate change, but it is also taking action to address the problem. Hospitals are going green in 2024 through multiple avenues, from improving their infrastructure to updating cafeteria menus.

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