Going Green Saves Green

By Beth Eckl, Director of Environmental Program Purchasing on April 26, 2013

Sustainability boosts your bottom line.

There has been a misperception for years that “greening” the supply chain in a health care setting will cost a hospital more, and simply attempting to go green is a luxury a facility just can’t afford. Susan Kaplan, JD, research assistant professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Health, and director of the Health Care Research Collaborative, begs to differ. “We kept hearing stories of how health systems were saving money by going green,” she notes. “For instance, Kaiser Permanente has reduced harmful toxins while saving $25 million a year through its Environmentally Preferable Purchasing program. Dignity Health reported that in 2011, its reprocessing practices kept 198,000 pounds of waste out of landfills and saved the system $5.6 million.”

Kaplan wanted to dig deeper and test the idea that sustainability can save rather than cost money. With support from The Commonwealth Fund and The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Health Care Research Collaborative collected data from hospitals implementing energy use reduction, waste reduction, and more efficient purchasing of operating room supplies. Using standardized metrics, the study concluded that savings could exceed $5.4 billion over five years, and $15 billion over 10.

One area the team researched was the reuse of single-use medical devices (SUDs). They collected data from seven hospitals sending SUDs back to the supplier to be cleaned, sterilized, and sold back to the hospital at a reduced price. The process saved each hospital about $12 per procedure (this does not included waste disposal savings) and $57 per procedure over five years. The team extrapolated that if all hospitals nationwide adopted this SUD reprocessing intervention, the cost savings would be $540 million annually or $2.7 billion over five years. With concrete data from studies such as this one, the numbers tell us that the common perception is incorrect and we can save green by going green.

Practice Greenhealth and its hospital members also have conducted studies looking at the lifecycle—or total cost of ownership—of a product from purchase to disposal. Here are a few case studies that show how sustainable procurement saves money.


Reusable Textiles

The University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC) found it was spending $1.35 million on waste disposal, which included surgical gowns and basins. UMMC teamed up with Synergy Health (formerly SRI Surgical) to purchase reusable gowns and basins. Synergy Health provides reusable supplies to health care facilities, and sterilizes and repackages the products at a local plant. Through this practice, UMMC avoided disposal of 138,748 pounds of waste—an approximate savings of $38,800 annually in waste disposal fees.


Steam-Sterilized Endoscopes

Kaiser Permanente set out to reduce chemical cleaners for rigid endoscopes. The green team searched to find a camera head that could be steam-sterilized to avoid worker exposure to chemicals. The find resulted in 31-percent cost savings at completion of conversion and $1 million in annual savings from no longer having to purchase hydrogen-peroxide cassettes.


Fluid Management in the OR

North Suburban Medical Center (NSMC) is a 157-bed, acute-care hospital in Thornton, Colorado. During surgical procedures, OR staff suctioned blood, body fluid, and other fluid waste from patients via a suction device that used wall suction canisters. The OR staff ran into various problems with this fluid management system: The wall suction canisters were only available in a limited variety of sizes, and during a surgical procedure, the suction canisters would occasionally fill up, forcing the OR staff to empty the canisters, risking exposure to potentially infec­tious fluid waste. Additionally, the wall suction canisters had poor suction strength, and didn’t allow anesthesiologists the chance to accurately measure the fluid loss from the patient.

In an effort to reduce the amount of regulated medical waste the facility generated, NSMC switched to the Stryker Neptune Fluid Management System in the OR in 2010. The closed fluid sys­tem is composed of a mobile device that collects surgical fluid waste without


Other Success Stories

An early advocate for sterile hard cases, Boulder Community Hospital purchased $120,000 worth of hard cases, reducing its disposable blue wrap purchasing from $250,000 in 2003 to $60,000 in 2005—a total of $190,000 in savings.

Health Alliance saved $1 million and six tons of waste by reprocessing SUDs.

Children’s Hospital in Colorado persuaded its supplier to deliver patient identification bracelets in reusable totes instead of boxes. This small act resulted in $20,000 in material and staff savings.

Kaiser Permanente switched to reusable sharps containers and reduced waste, saving the health care system $1.7 million annually.