Harborview Medical Center, Seattle

By Ron Kirkwood on October 21, 2014

The beauty of the Pacific Northwest inspires a passion for sustainability


When you’re in the Pacific Northwest, sustainability comes naturally.

“We live in a very beautiful area surrounded by mountains, trees and water that are loved by all,” says Brenda Nissley, sustainability and waste manager at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle. “We have a lot of people at Harborview who are passionate about the environment and are committed to preserving it for future generations. That’s not just here at the hospital; it’s prevalent throughout the Pacific Northwest.”

Harborview was named a 2014 Practice Greenhealth Top 25 Environmental Excellence Award winner, and also won Circle of Excellence Awards in the categories of Chemicals, Greening the OR and Food. This reflects a commitment to the environment that took off for Harborview in February 2010 with the creation of its Environmental Sustainability Steering Committee. The committee’s goal is to promote healing and well-being for patients, employees, visitors, the neighborhood and the broader community through environmentally sustainable practices. The committee is made up of department directors and managers from throughout Harborview, and its members set policies and guidelines with much input from Harborview employees.

Harborview’s sustainability victories are many. Here are a few:

  • Recycling as a percent of total waste is at 35 percent and climbing. As of this year, every patient room has a recycling container.
  • The amount of regulated medical waste (RMW) dropped last year from 2.7 pounds per bed to 2.07 pounds.
  • Kronos and Computerized Physician Order Entry computer software helped decrease confidential paper collection by 97 tons in 2013.
  • The majority of RMW is treated on-site and then disposed of as solid waste. That cut CO2 emissions by 17,820 pounds in 2013.
  • There are close to 600 pharmaceutical waste containers throughout the campus. In 2013, 11.53 tons of pharmaceutical waste was collected, compared with 1.42 tons in 2009.
  • Bike racks and showering facilities have long been provided for bike riders, and electric vehicle charging stations were installed in 2012.
  • Another current initiative is creating a healing garden on campus for patients, visitors and staff.

Also, the operating room is focused on waste reduction because ORs generate the largest percentage of waste in a hospital. Efforts in the OR include: reformulating 100 percent of kits; installing a reusable canister fluid management system; recycling plastics before, during and after procedures; using reusable surgical items and sterilization containers; and purchasing reusable gel-positioning devices to replace single-use blue foam positioning devices that become solid waste.

The Engineering Department at Harborview has a strong commitment to sustainability and strives to make the 80-year-old building more energy and water efficient. And when renovations are scheduled, a hospital interior design specialist incorporates sustainable, greener products.

“At Harborview, we are always trying to figure out how best to utilize our resources to make health care healthier and greener.”—Brenda Nissley, Sustainability and Waste Manager

“When completing the Practice Greenhealth award application, it’s fun to meet with people from each department to review their accomplishments from the previous year,” Nissley says. “We have all discovered that there is so much more to making health care more sustainable than recycling. It may be offering healthier foods to patients and staff, providing patients with a quieter environment to promote healing, using UV light technology to disinfect without harmful chemicals or installing LED lights to conserve energy. It’s important to consider the whole package, not just one component, when focusing on sustainability.”

FAL14.PGH.Harborview2Harborview has enrolled in all six challenges of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative, a national campaign to promote a more sustainable business model for health care while addressing the health and environmental impacts of the industry. Other current Harborview initiatives are: educating staff who evaluate and select products about Harborview’s Environmental Preferable Purchasing policy; expanding hospitalwide reprocessing efforts; rolling out composting in all employee break rooms; and developing a website to share sustainability efforts and successes with staff.

“At Harborview, we are always trying to figure out how best to utilize our resources to make health care healthier and greener,” Nissley says.

Harborview is part of UW Medicine, which has 64,000 annual admissions in four hospitals. Harborview has 413 inpatient beds and 4,700 employees.