Hospitals that need guidance in either starting or accelerating their sustainability efforts have a new source of information and assistance with the launch of the new Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI).

Eleven of the largest U.S. health care systems representing more than 500 hospitals have partnered with Health Care Without Harm, the Center for Health Design and Practice Greenhealth to create HHI, which launched in April.

The program will provide participants with resources and expertise to bolster their environmental efforts, thereby improving patient health and lowering operational costs. The sponsoring health care systems and some hospitals that enroll will serve as mentors and share their sustainability knowledge and best practices with other hospitals.

"What we really want to do is make environmental stewardship in health care mainstream," says Janet Brown, director of facility engagement, Practice Greenhealth, Reston, Va., and director of content and outreach, HHI.

"We'd like to reach that tipping point where every hospital starts integrating sustainable practices into their way of doing business. We don't want it to be in just some hospitals, we think it should be in every hospital," she says.

The program is free and open to all U.S. hospitals that enroll over the next three years and pledge to take on at least one of six core achievements — or "challenge" areas — that are the cornerstone of the program. The challenge areas include:

  • engaging in leadership on environmental health and sustainability;
  • serving healthier food and beverages;
  • reducing energy use;
  • reducing waste and increasing recycling;
  •  using safer chemicals;
  • purchasing environmentally preferable products.

Brown says HHI will assist participating hospitals in measuring the results of their efforts, an important aspect of the program. While individual data will remain confidential, HHI will issue regular reports using aggregate data from participants to share progress.

Mary Larsen, system environmental stewardship manager, Advocate Health Care, Oak Brook, Ill., became a sponsoring organization because HHI is consistent with its philosophy. "We really feel very strongly that joining HHI is the right thing to do because Advocate's mission, vision and values are aligned with improving health outcomes through more sustainable and healthier improvements to our footprint," she says.

Knox Singleton, chief executive officer, Inova Health System, Falls Church, Va., another sponsoring health care system, says hospitals have an obligation to promote patient health both within their facilities and in their communities. HHI helps hospitals fulfill that role. "By adopting HHI's challenges, such as conserving energy, reducing waste and serving healthier foods, hospitals can improve patient health while also reducing operational costs," he says.

The first health care system to join the program is Gundersen Lutheran Health System, La Crosse, Wis., which says it is on schedule to become energy independent by 2014. Gundersen enrolled in all six HHI challenge categories.

"Gundersen Lutheran's decision to join the Healthier Hospitals Initiative was based on our desire to collaborate with our colleagues to achieve excellence in sustainability in the health care industry," says Tom J. Thompson, sustainability coordinator, Gundersen.

Brown says the goal is to enroll at least 2,000 hospitals by 2014 and an active effort to recruit participants has started, she notes.

"We're hoping that by pulling together we'll be able to demonstrate once and for all with the data we collect that this is the future of health care," she says about HHI's objectives. "We won't need green teams in the future because sustainability will be fully integrated into how hospitals do business."

For more information on HHI or to enroll, go to