New technology helps ES professionals optimize inventory management.

Photo courtesy of Essity, 2018

Health care facilities are environments that protect and restore health and save lives. But what about the waste and byproducts they generate? The amount of waste produced within health care facilities has more impact on our environment than is realized, so the need for more sustainable practices is clear and unavoidable.

The good news is that the implementation of sustainable programs is growing considerably across U.S. hospitals. While this movement initially was borne from ecological concerns, sustainable programs have proven to yield a number of positive benefits beyond reducing one’s environmental footprint. These include a strong focus on how sustainability efforts could be applied to initiatives that prevent the spread of health care-associated infections.

Further, the purchasing and operational decisions being made by environmental services (ES) professionals are having a meaningful impact on a facility’s overall operations. Opting to “go green” can have a considerable positive economic impact, including improved public perception.

ES professionals should be mindful that their decisions carry wide-scale implications. The presence of new technologies, regulatory mandates, available products and shared best practices uniquely position ES professionals to make a meaningful ecological, financial and patient care impact.

Improving patient satisfaction

Today, more than half of global consumers report that they prefer to purchase products and services from a company with a strong environmental reputation. Simply put, sustainability matters to a hospital and health network’s communities.

And while the movement toward sustainable programs was motivated by environmental considerations, it is clear that environmentally responsible programs directly translate to improved patient care. According to a column on the Advisory Board consulting firm’s website, for instance:

  • 75 percent of consumers are more likely to buy a product or service if the company makes an effort to be sustainable.
  • 60 percent of respondents indicated that green initiatives are an important factor for patients when choosing a hospital.
  • 55 percent believe that sustainable choices help improve health care outcomes.
  • One recent study by Sodexo and Practice Greenhealth found that patients hospitalized in sustainable facilities reported overall higher treatment ratings than those in traditional hospitals when compared with the average performance of traditional hospitals of similar sizes and locations.

Additional research that looked at the connection between sustainability and patient satisfaction found that three key consumer metrics were positively impacted by effective placement and communication of sustainable practices: overall satisfaction, food and beverage satisfaction, and likelihood to return to the hospital.

Overall, 69 percent of study respondents agreed that their awareness of sustainable practices increased satisfaction. ES professionals should consider how different sustainability programs will affect the patient experience and lay out these benefits clearly to administration when looking to secure funding to launch new projects.

Building wellness

Changes to the physical environment affect patient mood, morale and physical comfort. The International Well Building Institute’s (IWBI’s) Well Building Standard takes a holistic, human-centered approach that is driving a paradigm shift in how facility professionals view sustainability.

The idea that buildings can positively affect the health of those occupying the space within presents a huge opportunity for ES professionals. Launched in 2014, the institute seeks to implement, validate and measure features in buildings and interior spaces to support and advance human health and wellness. In health care, IWBI has the potential to create new standards that can make hospitals more optimized than ever before, and pilot programs are underway in clinics, hospitals, acute care centers and assisted living facilities across the country to chart its success.

lWBI encourages all health care professionals to explore how their decisions have a direct impact on the environments in which people heal and rest. ES professionals can leverage the institute’s flexible framework as a guide to set targets for environmental factors that impact human health and well-being, through air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort and mind. At the core of any audit, ES professionals need to understand and explore how they can improve patient outcomes, drive better choices and enhance the effectiveness of the facility as a whole.

Reducing waste

Bringing recycling and composting to the top of the agenda in a facility can allow ES professionals to make both a meaningful ecological and financial impact. This can be achieved through stewardship of strategies and initiatives to minimize waste in patient food services, which can then be cascaded down to other facility managers.

Three areas of focus for waste reduction include monthly waste audits, highlighting source waste reduction and prevention, and waste-separation programs. Easily actionable tactics will be the most effective. For example, they can include the adjustment of purchasing decisions based on products with the least amount of packaging; performing waste audits on nonfood waste returned on patient trays; and preventing the disposal of recyclable and compostable wastes from returned patient trays into regular waste. Waste-separation programs in facility dishwashing stations can result in a substantial reduction in regular waste, and a significant increase in the amount of recycled waste at the station (e.g., through the recycling of milk cartons, plastic packaging and juice containers).

Time, cost and labor can present barriers or opportunities in securing the essential buy-in of food service personnel interested in reducing the ecological impact of their facilities. Evidence that demonstrable results can be achieved with little or no additional cost to the facility and a more strategic utilization of the existing workforce, can permit environmental services professionals to build a robust case for immediate implementation.

Modernizing a facility

ES professionals increasingly are looking to modern technology as a way to improve operational efficiencies and reduce waste. Connected devices can utilize “internet of things” technology to provide real-time data from connected restroom dispensers and other sensors to keep facility managers and cleaners informed about restroom status and provide insights into usage and traffic trends.

Innovative technology solutions help managers clean more efficiently, while also ensuring user satisfaction. It allows facilities to exercise greater control over their image and reputation by preventing complaints before they happen. Real-time data provide ES professionals with the ability to ensure that they are delivering a consistently clean and hygienic environment to guests each and every day. The time and resources saved allow cleaning staff to focus on other tasks, enhancing the patient experience.

Technology also can directly reduce waste. Facilities most likely are not aware of what paper towel waste may be costing them if they do not track it closely or track the tendencies of their cleaning staff. However, dispensers are available that provide real-time data to customers and allow facility managers to see how much their facilities are using and where refills are needed, ultimately eliminating stub rolls and wasted hand towels. This allows ES professionals to manage inventory optimally.

A recent survey, commissioned by Tork, an Essity brand, showed that health care professionals across a variety of environments uncovered the following:

  • 95 percent of health care workers believe that it is important to use the most up-to-date technology to mitigate the spread of infection.
  • 68 percent of health care workers say the introduction of technology to their facility has improved hygiene compliance.

Improving hand washing

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hand hygiene remains the single most important strategy for preventing the spread of health care-associated infections in health care facilities. Facilitating the success and sustainability of hand-washing programs and hygiene compliance also can help ES professionals have a positive impact on patient care. 

The World Health Organization’s “5 Moments for Hand Hygiene” for health care workers are: before patient contact, before aseptic task, after bodily fluid exposure, after patient contact and after contact with patient surroundings. However, despite these guidelines, compliance rates for appropriate hand hygiene are far from where they should be, highlighting the difficulty in sustaining an effective program that incorporates a behavioral change and compliance in management strategy.

A recent study that appeared in the journal Infectious Disorders — Drug Targets has shown that in facilitating a hand-hygiene program, ES professionals should consider six key factors. These include leadership engagement, environmental assessment, employee education, a tight feedback loop, communication and routine revitalization. Hand-washing programs that employed a multimodal use of several of these factors were more successful in creating an effective hand-hygiene program and delivering against the facility’s hygiene and sustainability goals. Adopting these strategies can help ES professionals maximize the impact on patient care.

Well on their way

Sustainable programs are well on their way. More than half of hospitals report incorporating sustainability into purchasing decisions. The impact of environmental quality on patient satisfaction is also evident. Making sustainable choices should be seen as an opportunity to improve efficiencies and improve patient health and satisfaction.

Tom Bergin is the marketing director for Essity Professional Hygiene, North America. He can be reached at