The University of California (UC) recently set an array of sustainability goals for its medical facilities and campuses that touch nearly every aspect of the built environment.

All new acute care facilities must now meet energy-efficiency requirements based on industry-leading benchmarks. Also, each medical center within the UC Health system will set its own goals for waste and water efficiency, coupled with enhanced reporting requirements based on targets established by Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit membership organization. 

At UC San Diego Health, for instance, the hospital is exploring areas where it can reduce waste creation. UC San Diego Health is one of only two health systems in the nation to receive the 2018 Sustainability Breakthrough Award from Cardinal Health Sustainable Technologies for showing the most significant improvement year-over-year in sustainability program performance efforts. In 2017 alone, the health system recycled 40,666 medical devices, diverting more than 4 tons of waste from landfills.

Carl Solomon, director of environmental services, is exploring options to reduce both costs and environmental impacts in hospital operations. Solid waste disposal is an enormous cost for UC San Diego Health, almost $3 million per year.

“Currently, we spend money on our comingled recycling, but we are looking at ways to possibly generate revenue instead,” says Solomon. “We will soon have corrugated cardboard bailers on our La Jolla campus. We’ll bail the cardboard, make it available for purchase and direct those funds back toward patient care.”

Chris McCracken, director of nutrition services, says UC San Diego Health also has its eyes on eliminating plastic drinking straws. He hopes to put a plan in motion by the end of the year to switch to paper-based straws and is exploring the procurement of drink cup lids that don’t require straws, similar to coffee cup lids.