Few sectors of the economy consume as many resources – electricity, water, cleaning products, chemicals and food – as health care.  As research linking environmental impact with chronic disease continues to emerge, it poses a unique question to hospitals.  If their mission is to heal and promote health, shouldn't reducing their environmental impact be part of their work?
Yes, say more than 500 leading hospitals across the country that have joined the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), a partnership coordinated by Practice Greenhealth, Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), and the Center for Health Design. 

"Hospitals can no longer afford to be out of sync in their day-to-day work of healing and treating and the environmental impact they have in communities across the country," said Knox Singleton, Chief Executive Officer, Inova Health System of Falls Church, VA.  "By reducing waste and conserving energy, among other challenges, we can not only reduce operational costs, we can improve the health of people in our communities before they ever enter a hospital."
HHI's sponsoring health systems include Advocate Health Care, Bon Secours Health System, Catholic Health Initiatives, Dignity Health (formerly Catholic Healthcare West), Hospital Corporation of America, Inova Health System, Kaiser Permanente, MedStar Health, Partners HealthCare, Tenet Health Systems and Vanguard Health Systems.
The new campaign urges the nation's hospitals to commit to the three-year initiative to improve the health and safety of patients, staff and communities by using the Initiative's newly issued, free step-by-step guides to implement the HHI Challenges:
• Engage in leadership on environmental health and sustainability
• Serve healthier foods and beverages
• Reduce energy use
• Reduce waste and recycle
• Use safer chemicals
• Purchase environmentally preferable products
The health care sector is focused on improving health outcomes and ‘bending the cost curve' by reining in costs," said John Messervy, AIA, Director of Capital and Facility Planning, Partners HealthCare.  "This Initiative helps hospitals free up resources to do what they do best – care for patients."
The launch coincides with the Health Care Without Harm/HHI Research Collaborative's release of "Creating a Culture of Sustainability:  Leadership, Coordination and Performance Measurement Decisions in Health Care", a report authored by Tonya Boone, PhD, of George Mason University, examining the outcomes of environmental sustainability initiatives at eight health care systems in the United States. The research focused on illuminating organizational factors that contributed to the programs' achievements and cost savings. In the course of research, Boone identified significant cost savings associated with the initiatives:

• By creating an environmentally preferable purchasing program, nationwide provider Kaiser Permanente estimates it will save approximately $26 million a year.

• Dignity Health (formerly Catholic Healthcare West) saved $5.4 million in 2010 by increasing the amount of reusable products it purchased for its hospitals and clinics in California, Arizona and Nevada.
During the next three years, HHI will gather data and metrics from participating hospitals to demonstrate the impact these strides are having on the health and safety of patients, workers and communities, as well as on reducing health care expenditures.
"The growing burden of chronic disease in the U.S. makes it imperative to accelerate the health care sector's adoption of smart, cost-saving environmental practices," said Gary Cohen, Founder and President of Health Care Without Harm.  Cohen noted that key successes can already be seen in the industry.  "We've taken carcinogens out of cancer centers and chemicals linked to asthma and birth defects out of children's hospitals. It's not only the right thing to do, it's smart business."