Get Connected

By Beth Eckl, Director of Practice Greenhealth's Environmental Purchasing Program on January 12, 2015

Easy environmental purchasing solutions may be as close as turning to your suppliers. 


As hospitals and health systems seek environmental purchasing solutions to achieve their sometimes complex sustainability goals, many are finding the answers are closer than they expected.

Whether viewed as a partnership, collaboration or part of a supply chain negotiation, many of Practice Greenhealth’s leading hospitals have found that achieving sustainability goals involving the supply chain happens in large part because they simply reached out and connected with their suppliers. By leveraging new and existing services, your current suppliers can be a priceless resource. Here’s how:

Partner With Your Supplier on a Shared Vision

Common sustainability projects with a supplier include:

  • Capturing spend data to demonstrate progress and goal setting.
  • Reducing packaging.
  • Procuring more products with recycled content.
  • Purchasing antibiotic-free meat.
  • Switching to products without chemicals of concern, such as DEHP-free IV bags and furniture without flame retardants.
  • Reducing waste in the operating room.
  • Saving energy in labs.

What’s the common factor? The suppliers. Many case studies attest to the value of hospitals partnering with suppliers to achieve greater sustainability success.

“We can’t achieve our vision without our suppliers,” said Vanessa Lochner, director of environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP) at Kaiser Permanente. “Their responsiveness to our procurement goals allows all of us to be successful.”

The best practice is for hospitals to convey their sustainability goals with group purchasing organizations (GPOs) and leadership in their organization’s supply chain, asking them to include environmental considerations in purchasing processes, such as in requests for proposals, contract committee evaluations and value analysis teams.

The best practice is for hospitals to convey their sustainability goals with GPOs and leadership in their organization’s supply chain, asking them to include environmental considerations in purchasing processes, such as in requests for proposals, contract committee evaluations and value analysis teams.  

Support Your Supplier’s Innovative Technologies

As the world grows more environmentally aware, suppliers are responding with innovative ideas for solving complex problems. It’s up to the health systems, however, to respond. Many products and services are now available that minimize environmental and human health impact compared with traditional items used in health care. For example, Compression Therapy Concepts designed a higher-quality product line to withstand reprocessing. Another supplier, Belimed created a line of sterilizers that saves water in hospitals. MedSpeed offers transportation services and a calculated method for organizing the movement of physical materials to achieve greater operational efficiencies, reducing environmental impact. Johnson & Johnson reduced packaging and incorporated recycled content into packaging of blood glucose monitors. Suppliers are also working collaboratively with multiple stakeholders to address demand for antibiotic-free meat.

Suppliers are even providing hospital customers with lists of furniture without flame retardants. Mary Larsen, environmental stewardship manager for Advocate Health Care, recently told The Guardian, “… They [the supplier] started looking at their own supply chain and talking to manufacturers of foam and PVC and looking at alternates so that when we specify furniture free of these chemicals, they can supply it in the volume we need.”

Collaborate With Suppliers on Data and Reports

In order to measure success, many hospitals are turning to suppliers to provide spend or usage reports on products with environmental attributes. The Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) is driving some of this work through specific challenges requiring the submission of data to measure progress toward challenge goals. Hospitals also turn to suppliers for data reports on amounts of materials recycled, purchases of products made with recycled content, waste reduced by using fluid management technology with reusable containers, savings through reprocessing single-use medical devices and many others. GPOs are also a source for data and reports.

Rely on Suppliers’ Expertise for Education and Resources

Suppliers are supporting the transition to new environmentally preferable products by providing staff education and training on product use and maintenance. For example, when organizations select Green Seal-certified janitorial cleaners, it’s often required that staffers learn methods of cleaning that differ from when traditional cleaning products are used. Supplier education and training ensures product user satisfaction and supports successful transitions.

Shop Wisely

Many office supply and maintenance catalogs, such as those for Office Depot, Staples and Grainger, have added icons to show environmental attributes of products. Hospitals should request these catalog designations when available and utilize them when choosing furniture, cleaning products, maintenance supplies and more. Designations might include logos for reputable environmental standards such as Green Seal and the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) or logos that identify environmental attributes, such as recycled content. GPO catalogs might also identify environmental attributes.

Be a Part of the Solution

Playing a valuable role at Practice Greenhealth, the Business Leadership Coalition (BLC) was created as part of the Greening the Supply Chain® Initiative and is a broad coalition of large and small businesses whose mission is to work diligently and cooperatively to take a leadership position and offer creative solutions for environmentally preferable purchasing. As an important first step, the BLC is supporting the development of a Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) tool to assess and develop a first-of-its-kind tool for the health care industry that accounts for environmental costs in purchasing decisions.

The goal of the TCO tool is to empower health care providers. By bringing these submerged costs on products’ use, maintenance and disposal to the surface during the procurement process, hospitals can make more informed decisions and reduce their operational costs and environmental impacts. The TCO tool will launch this year.

Environmentally preferable purchasing is here and now, and the supply chain plays a pivotal role. But you don’t have to start from scratch. In many cases, all it takes is a conversation with existing suppliers to get a sustainability project off the ground. Talk to your suppliers, and get traction toward your sustainability goals.