Going Green: 5 Ways Hospitals Can Help the Environment

In 2009, St. Joseph, Mo.-based Heartland Health began a journey to go “green.” It was then the health system’s COO Curt Kretzinger approached David Jones, vice president of support services, with the challenge to become an environmentally friendly facility.

The hospital began its green initiative, which it cleverly titled “Jones ‘n to be Green’ after its unofficial Green leader, by forming a green committee and opened it to all levels of employees with an interest in reducing the system’s carbon footprint. The group began its efforts by defining what ‘going green’ meant for Heartland Health: 65 percent of efforts would be around lowering energy use, 25 percent around transportation and 10 percent around reusing and recycling. “The biggest thing you can do to protect the environment and lower costs is reducing energy use, says Mr. Jones. “It has the most bang for your buck.”

After setting energy as a priority, the green team used the Premier healthcare alliance’s “Executive Scorecard on the Environment” to score its environmental friendliness and identify areas of opportunity. Changes were incorporated into the health system’s facility plan and implemented. While the hospital made numerous changes to reduce its carbon footprint, here are a few of the most notable.

1. Replace inefficient lighting. Heartland began its quest to improve its energy efficiency by replacing fluorescent and other inefficient lighting with energy efficient bulbs. The facility plan was also altered to require the replacement of bulbs every two years. “As bulbs age, their light output diminishes; thus they need more energy to operate,” says Mr. Jones. The change also created an unintended benefit, “People thought we’d painted and replaced the carpet.” Additionally, maintenance workers readjusted how indirect lighting was aimed so that less lighting was needed.

2. Upgrade HVAC system, other equipment and materials. Another major change Heartland made was to upgrade its HVAC system, adding monitoring tools and automated controls, as well as its boiler controls. Additionally, the facility plan called for thicker insulation of windows and walls. As a result of these and the lighting changes, the system was able to bring its energy costs per square foot down from $2.92 in 2007 to $2.39 today, despite a 30 percent increase in energy rates. Reducing energy use also reduced the number of generators required to keep the system running during the 8-10 power outages the hospital experiences each year.

3. Ensure vendor contracts require recycling of waste. Mr. Jones worked to find a paper shredding vendor that would agree to recycle the paper waste after it was shredded. Hospital employees were then encouraged to put all paper waste in the shredding bins, not just those with sensitive material, since it would mean the waste would be recycled. The hospital also found a cardboard baler willing to recycle the hospital’s cardboard waste, which averaged 1,500 pounds per day from 2009-2010. The changes saved more than 15,300 trees, 342,400 gallons of oil and 2,703 cubic yards of landfill space, according to Heartland’s estimates.

4. Replace vehicles with energy efficient models. Heartland has one security vehicle that patrol its campus, which used to fuel up 2-3 times per week. After purchasing hybrid vehicles, trips to the gas station dropped to once every week and a half, creating significant savings on gas costs. The hospital also has an electric charging station available.

5. Grease from cafeteria fryers recycled into fuel. One of the more unique changes Heartland made was contracting with a vendor that would remove fryer grease out of dietary services. The new vendor charges less to remove the grease than the previous vendor, because it is paid a nominal fee for the grease by another group that converts it into fuel.

In the future, Heartland will focus on improving its waste management and is currently in the processes of using a centralized waste management service for all of its facilities, says Mr. Jones. He calls Heartland’s journey to become a green facility a rewarding one, and he hopes more hospitals will start making similar changes to lessen their impact on the environment.