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5/7/2010

Work Goes Green: Hospitals

First Do No Harm. Rush University Medical Center Extends Their Patient Commitment to the Environment

By Deborah Warner | GreenTech TV

THE BIG PICTURE:

There is a revolution happening right now.  It is the Green Hospital Movement.

Hospitals have one of the largest carbon footprints of all public infrastructures, using about 2.5 times the amount of energy as a similar sized commercial building.  Hospitals never shut down; nor do their energy meters. In addition, hospitals have harmful operational requirements for air filtration, equipment, sterilization, laundry, and food preparation.  

Across the globe hospitals and health-care institutions are working to build, retrofit and operate green and sustainably.  They are reducing hazardous materials, solid waste generation, and toxic chemical usage. They are eliminating hospital incinerators, improving hospital food quality, improving air quality for their patients, greening the materials they purchase, building green infra structure to save energy and reduce water consumption and are eliminating volatile pollutants like PVC in hospital equipment.  These actions are just a few of the many initiatives that health care institutions are taking.

The movement includes nurses, doctors, and administrators.  And the public is paying close attention. 

During the coming months you’ll learn more about how hospitals are going green, starting with Rush University Medical Center in Chicago.

 

RUSH UNIVERSITY MEDICAL CENTER:

At Rush University Medical Center, Chicago’s first full-service green hospital, and a leader among green hospitals in the U.S., they’re taking dramatic action to reduce their carbon footprint.  In fact, they are one of only four hospitals in the country that are Gold LEED certified.  Fewer than 100 hospitals nationwide have LEED certification.

Part of their success comes from the support and commitment of the employee-based Rush Green Team. To find out what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, we interviewed Mary Gregoire, PhD, who leads the team. In Part I of this two part series we focus on some of their biggest wins.  

Deborah:

How did the Rush University Medical Center Green Team get started?  Was it a top-down management initiative, or did it evolve as grassroots movement? 

Mary:

It originated several years ago, as a grass roots effort.  One of my colleagues and I started talking to people who shared our concern for the environment to see how we could begin to make an impact.  Today we have a formal, but completely volunteer, Rush Green Team that meets monthly.  We focus on practical and creative ways to build awareness, and engage the Rush community to make environmentally sustainable choices.  We’re also getting great support from management.  For any program to be successful there’s got to be support at the top and support from the bottom.  At Rush we’ve really made the effort to get it coming from both ways.

Deborah:

Before we talk about how you sustain momentum for green initiatives, which is the subject of Part II of this interview series, I’d like to hear about some of the wins you’ve already achieved, your recycling program, for example.

Mary:

Typically, over 50 percent of hospital waste is paper and 20 percent is plastic, so recycling has been really important to us.  In 2009 we diverted 898 tons of materials from landfills. To help drive our success, we installed high visibility recycling kiosks that use pictures to show people exactly what to do.  Plus the Green Team created online quizzes to raise awareness about what and how to recycle.  But we recycle much more than just paper, glass, plastic and cans.  Our kitchen grease, for example, is converted to biodiesel fuel, vehicle and machine oil is converted back into fuel products, and we purchase electronics from a supplier that includes recycling as part of their services.  Those are just a few of the examples.

Deborah:

Beyond your recycling efforts, I know you’re also attacking the problem from the perspective of reducing and reusing materials. 

Mary:

Packaging is an enormous source of waste, so we’re always looking for suppliers who can help us with that.  Some of the smallest changes can have a really big impact.  We’re using new napkin holders that dispense one napkin at a time instead of four or five.  We’ve eliminated the need for plastic-wrapped food utensils by installing a sanitary dispensing unit that dispenses biodegradable utensils individually. The medical center is testing out toilet paper rolls that don’t have cardboard centers and that are bulk shrink-wrapped for shipping, and the team is looking into reusable laundry bags and reusable surgical packs.  These are just a few examples of our efforts.  

Deborah:

I understand that you’ve also made some important changes in your kitchen and cafeteria locations.  What exactly have you focused on, and what kind of impact are your changes making?

Mary:

Rush has reduced the volume of cafeteria trash by 80 percent thanks to a giant food disposal called a pulper machine.  As food trays are sent back on the conveyer belt, staff pull off recyclable materials and sort them. The remaining organic materials from food to biodegradable serve ware enter a re-circulating water trough that feeds into the pulper - sort of a giant garbage disposal –where the organic materials are chopped up into confetti-size pieces and the water is spun out.  By reducing the volume of our waste, we reduce the amount of energy that is used to haul it and reduce our hauling costs at the same time.  It also reduces the volume of waste that goes into the landfill.   

Deborah:

If I’m correct, you’ve also said “No To Foam.” How does that impact of the waste that you’re sending to landfills? 

Mary:

Nearly 2000 people eat at the cafeteria every day and we use disposable containers.  Now that’s a lot of trash!  Instead of Styrofoam, we use plates, cups and containers that are made from corn.  They’re biodegradable and break down in the landfill in 30 days.  You know, it’s important for people to understand that our new approach to waste is great for the environment, and it’s also saving Rush thousands of dollars a month in waste disposal.

Deborah:

When people think of green environments, they often think of carbon reducing initiatives; however you’re also addressing green from the perspective of eliminating environmental contaminants and creating patient and employee environments that are more conducive to healing.

Mary:

Yes, we’re implementing a major green chemical movement. How we maintain our tile floors is a good example.  Tile floors in commercial settings require routine wax stripping to remove thick layers of wax.  In the past, highly caustic wax strippers were used.  Now we have equipment that uses warm water and motion pads to remove it.  In our new construction, we’re taking it further and installing no wax flooring. We’re also taking measures to limit sound pollution and create healing design elements using daylight and outdoor respite areas.

Deborah:

If you had one piece of advice to give people who would like to do what you’re doing at their own companies or organizations, what would it be? 

Mary:

I always tell people that what’s critical is starting.  You don’t have to start big, but you need to start something.  Even small steps give you momentum and you will continue to move and grow.  But if you keep feeling like its more than you can deal with and you don’t start, then you won’t get there.  And when you look at the results that a Green Team and green initiatives deliver, you really want to get there.

Deborah:

It’s obvious that Rush is taking real steps to reduce the medical center’s operational impact on the environment.  In Part II of this interview, which will be published here on May 11, we’ll talk with Mary about how the Rush Green Team has helped drive this success, and find out how the creative ways they continue to engage employees to raise the eco awareness and commitment. 

 

 

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