CleanMed 2016, which wrapped up in Dallas in May, focused a great deal on eliminating toxins from the health care environment. Conference attendees were even among the first to learn of a new purchasing cooperative called Greenhealth Exchange. Founded by health care organizations Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Dignity Health, Gundersen Health System and Partners HealthCare, along with Health Care Without Harm, the partnership will make it easier for health care organizations to buy green.

“Over the last decade, leading health care organizations have begun to reevaluate products and goods purchased using some different metrics, and this is making a big difference in the kind of healing environment hospitals are creating for both patients and staff,” writes Gary Cohen, president and founder of Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth, in GreenBiz. “Aligning directly with health care’s healing mission, leading hospitals are beginning to evaluate a product’s potential toxicity to human health, the amount of resources used and the overall lifecycle cost.”

Health care organizations are taking bold steps to reduce toxins and chemicals of concern from their facilities. In October, Kaiser Permanente banned 13 antimicrobial additives from its facilities. A few more hospitals have followed suit and pledged to reduce purchasing of furnishings that contain five chemicals: flame retardants, formaldehyde, stain- and water-resistant perfluorinated compounds, polyvinyl chloride and antimicrobials. 

Publicly made commitments from a handful of hospitals speak to a larger trend happening within health care. From our 2015 Sustainable Operations Survey, we learned that improving quality of the indoor environment ranked a close third for one of the main motivations why hospitals go green. Improved operational efficiency (80 percent) and long-term cost benefit (76 percent) were the top two.

In addition to choosing toxin-free furnishings, green cleaning is another way health care organizations choose to improve indoor air quality. Eighty-three percent of the respondents to the 2015 Sustainable Operations Survey said that they use cleaning equipment that does not negatively impact indoor air quality, and 78 percent reported adopting environmentally preferable cleaning policies for such surfaces as floors, walls, furniture and medical equipment.

Greg May, CHESP, who was the 2015 Association for the Healthcare Environment board president at the time of the survey’s report said, “Almost every environmental services director has some kind of green cleaning program — water, chemical-free stripping of floors, low-odor chemical — but I don’t know if many hospitals have a formal metric. Someone is likely monitoring progress, but not in a formal way.”

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