Hospital environmental services (ES) teams are making significant progress in making operations more efficient, cutting costs, reducing waste streams and implementing environmentally friendly cleaning products. Nevertheless, significant challenges are blocking ES teams from making greater progress on sustainability.

These barriers include competing spending priorities, inadequate staffing levels for sustainability initiatives, lack of time and perceived higher costs for “green” cleaning products and systems over traditional materials and equipment.

These were just some of the key takeaways from Health Facilities Management’s 2015 Sustainable Operations Survey. The survey, conducted jointly with the American Society for Healthcare Engineering and the Association for the Healthcare Environment, explored how hospitals are managing energy and water consumption, regulated and nonregulated medical waste streams and hazardous chemicals used in cleaning and disinfecting facilities.

Some of the highlights from the data include:

  • 78 percent of the respondents have implemented or are in the process of initiating a waste management plan for all materials and waste streams.
  • 75 percent have or are in the process of establishing baseline generation rates and costs for all waste categories, including solid, regulated medical, recycling, pharmaceuticals and hazardous materials. The same percentage also regularly track waste volume and costs associated with all waste streams.
  • 73 percent have or in the process of implementing a facilitywide waste management program, including things like placing clearly marked and color-coded recycling containers throughout buildings.

Elsewhere, the survey data showed some wide variation in the rates of which various materials are recycled by respondents’ facilities. While the vast majority of respondents are recycling cardboard (88 percent), batteries (83 percent), paper (80 percent), beverage containers (74 percent) and metal (70 percent), far fewer organizations are recycling plastic (55 percent), glass (51 percent), construction and demolition debris (41 percent) and blue wrap (24 percent).

And in what seems to be a missed opportunity for many, only 40 percent of the respondents said they track and report facility waste stream reduction savings.

Overall, though, we’ve continued to see steady progress by ES teams improving their efforts to achieve greater levels of sustainable operations since we began surveying on this subject in 2010. And that’s news worth noting.

Bob Kehoe is a senior editor with Health Facilities Management.