Hospitals and healthcare facilities operate around the clock and can consume copious amounts of energy for ventilation, heating and cooling, and for devices like CT and MRI scanners. They also use various materials that are inherently hazardous, such as cleaning products and radioactive isotopes. Byproducts of healthcare activities include used bedding and bandages, blood, sharps (needles, lancets and other sharp objects), infectious “red bag” waste and other items that cannot be disposed of as standard residential waste.

With all of these factors – and the average patient producing about 10 pounds of medical garbage per day – healthcare facilities have the potential to affect the environment significantly.

Healthcare organizations and agencies are forming strategic partnerships with technology providers for the purpose of environmentally responsible initiatives. The goal is to implement consistent systems that improve a facility's efficiency by providing sustainable solutions for energy consumption, waste management and resource conservation. Siemens Healthcare in Germany has worked with the Ethianum clinic, and GE Healthcare has collaborated with the Asklepios Hospital Group, also in Germany.

The Ethianum, a clinic for plastic reconstructive and aesthetic surgery, employed sustainable solutions built-in from the ground up for energy management, IT infrastructure and logistics organization. It incorporated the “Green+ Hospital” program designed by Siemens Healthcare. At the Ethianum clinic, treatment, medical research and teaching occurs under one roof, which reduces pollution created by travel between sites, and the facility produces fewer emissions thanks to utilization of geothermal energy. Ventilation, heating and cooling processes are also optimized to make them more efficient.

The Asklepios Hospital Group project used a multidimensional approach to reduce environmental impact. The “Healthymagination” concept by GE Healthcare aims to raise energy efficiency by 30%, while reducing waste by the same amount. Part of the strategy includes the use of renewable energy sources, which will be an important feature of future hospital designs.

Success relies heavily on consistent efforts toward sustainability and the embrace of the latest technology. The operating room in the Ethianum clinic, for example, uses a monitor that can display patient records, X-rays and photographic data. Recovery rooms contain multimedia centers that let patients instantly contact a professional or locate items they need, such as information on their therapy plans. Medical devices and machinery must be selected with energy efficiency in mind. On-site energy production using solar power, geothermal energy and other sources eases the load on the local power grid and moves care facilities toward energy independence, a particularly desirable feature in the event of an emergency or natural disaster.

Healthcare waste can be a major issue for hospitals. On-site incineration of medical waste can create plumes of ash and particles, causing potentially dangerous health issues for people living in those areas. Improper handling of medical waste can result in direct issues with public health, such as debris washing up on shorelines.

Some of these problems can be addressed by improved packaging and recycling methods, and more progress can be made by seeking strategic partnerships with suppliers who are willing to recover packaging and waste materials that result from use of their products. A “cradle-to-grave” system of use-and-disposal can help eliminate the possibility of dangerous materials reaching the environment.

Healthcare facilities of the future may incorporate the most advanced technologies and use strategic partnerships to ease the burden of equipment upgrades and waste management. On-site sustainable energy production likely will continue to become more common. The hospitals of tomorrow may consider initiatives like composting and recycling as standard practice. Suppliers willing to manage and dispose of hazardous waste created by using their products have the potential to become valuable trade partners.

Going green means more than being friendly to the environment. It can raise the quality of care and lower costs for patients, and raise the quality of life for nearby populations. Such efforts, though, must be consistent and maintained or they will have little overall impact. Altering established, traditional operations can represent a significant challenge to many healthcare facilities, especially those in older buildings. Trained individuals, including those with an MBA in Healthcare Management, can help ease this transition.

Future construction of healthcare facilities must include dedicated efforts to improve sustainability and minimize environmental impacts. Effective solutions will require individuals with specific training and a commitment to excellence in their field. Professionals with an MBA in Healthcare Management, and those with Healthcare Management training and an interest in sustainability, may find themselves with additional professional opportunities in the years ahead.

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