8 tips to eco-friendly purchasing in the health care sector

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8 tips to eco-friendly purchasing in the health care sector

January 15, 2015
From the January 2015 issue of HealthCare Business News magazine

By Beth Eckl

Every environmental impact is a result of a product or a service. So while health care sustainability or quality teams may focus on recycling or energy conservation as a strategy to improve health and reduce cost savings, forward-thinking facilities are looking upstream — right to the contract table. The time to make the biggest environmental impact is before the deal is sealed — this is the place to use the lens of health when identifying office chairs, carpeting, waste haulers, general contractors, food items such as chicken, pork or beef, energy systems, toilets, napkins, paints and IV bags. Every product and service needed to support sustainability goals has its share of environmental attributes that can be considered.

Here is a list of the top eight environmental considerations to help group purchasing organization committee members and facility value analysis teams, as examples, use the lens of health when weighing purchasing decisions. These considerations revolve around a product’s entire lifecycle. Each part of the cycle may impact the total cost to own the product, an essential factor to help capture and account for its true cost, not just the purchase price. This system thinking helps play out in the lifetime of that product to ensure that the most cost-efficient product is identified at the end of the procurement decision- making process — not just the cheapest at the door. What may appear “cheap” upfront can be a wolf in sheep’s’ clothing. Perhaps it’s laden with toxic chemicals or is a single-use item with huge waste costs, or is made of a material with little market for recycling.

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Practice Greenhealth’s Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical Products were designed to provide a format for purchasers to use when weighing the costs of products and services. The challenge lies in how to use the data to impact decision-making and how to weigh the value of the various environmental attributes. There is no perfectly green product since every product has an environmental impact. Purchasing decisions should include environmental factors that may impact patient and worker safety and the environment, along with performance, quality and cost. While purchasers may not initially be willing to spend more for an environmentally preferable product, truly understanding its “total” cost can help justify the purchase of healthier products — with less headaches (literally and figuratively) down the road.

1. Safer chemicals
While chemicals have a place in health care, avoiding chemicals that are persistent in the environment and linked to cancer, asthma or other health issues, is a priority — certainly when safer alternatives are available. Hospitals are messaging the marketplace loud and clear —they want products that are safe, healthier from a chemicals perspective and in line with their mission to “do no harm.” With increased cancer rates and the Presidential Cancer Report stating that the “incidence of environmentally caused cancers is grossly underestimated” it’s time to avoid chemicals of concern, where possible. Cleaning chemicals that are Green Seal or UL ECOLOGO certified; organic and fair trade foods, medical equipment free of DEHP, furniture free of the intentional use of halogenated flame retardants and pest management companies that avoid chemical use altogether, are just a few of the opportunities for chemical avoidance in health care purchasing. Mercury-free products, green chemistry and distillation units to recycle solvent for reuse are ways to bring those efforts into the laboratory setting. Increasingly, hospitals are focusing on furniture, fabric and finishes and avoiding poly vinyl chloride (PVC), formaldehyde, perfluorinated compounds and fire retardants, in alignment with the Healthier Hospital Initiative’s healthy interiors goal of the Safer Chemicals Challenge.

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