Menu, Please

By Janet Howard, DIRECTOR, FACILITY ENGAGEMENT, PRACTICE GREENHEALTH, AND Director, Content and Outreach, Healthier Hospitals Initiative on April 28, 2015

HHI offers a big serving of sustainability. 


HHI TYImagine it: The hottest restaurant in town is open and you have a seat. The table setting is beautiful and you can’t wait to dine. But as you sit down, the waiter comes to the table and asks, “What would you like to eat?”

You look at the table, then you look back at the waiter. “Where’s the menu?” you ask. He shakes his head—there isn’t one—but, as he explains, the restaurant has endless options, hundreds of possible dishes. But without a menu, how can you decide?

When the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI) launched in 2012, it, too, recognized that there were endless opportunities in sustainability activities, but it chose to focus on six “Challenge” areas, with one to three goals per Challenge: Engaged Leadership, Healthier Food, Leaner Energy, Less Waste, Safer Chemicals and Smarter Purchasing. By providing the clear goal, defining the measure and setting the data collection point, this manageable menu made it easier to connect with a specific activity and get started—a fully developed offering served on a nice plate, all ready to eat. The side dishes included webinars, guidance documents, case studies, leadership spotlights and a great deal of media attention and conference activity.

Gary Cohen, the founder of Health Care Without Harm, envisioned the Healthier Hospitals Initiative as a powerful movement guided by leading health systems that could join together over specific environmental improvement activities and create a ripple effect with the aggregate data. Together, these hospitals could work to identify proven strategies, and as we increasingly recognized that sustainability is health, failure was not an option.

Along the way, any hospital could also realize cost savings while making a healthier future for communities, staff and the world. When using the lens of health, important work could be propelled, work that defines the connection between energy and climate change, antibiotic-raised meat with multidrug-resistant organisms, and chemical-laden furniture with learning disabilities or cancer. These baby steps into healthier environments, supported by data, would help hospital leaders see that sustainability is more than a catchphrase—that it has a place in quality care.

With 12 powerful health systems investing their financial resources, best practices, guidance and time, our agenda has been driven. The kickoff was in spring 2012, and by CleanMed 2013 there were 350 hospitals that submitted data related to improving the health care environment.

By spring 2014, the data submissions more than doubled, with 800 hospitals participating. At CleanMed 2015, the HHI team anticipates more than 925 hospitals submitting the most powerful data set to date, demonstrating the momentum of these past three years.


The Milestone Report and an addendum of case studies will be released at CleanMed 2015, sharing the results of HHI and highlighting the market transformation work underway around safer chemicals and healthier food. An addendum of one case study per goal challenge will provide key takeaways to tell the stories behind the data and help hospitals build upon their successes, one recipe at a time. If you haven’t already, register now at

When the Healthier Hospitals Initiative launched in 2012, it recognized that there were endless opportunities in sustainability activities, but it chose to focus on six “Challenge” areas: Engaged Leadership, Healthier Food, Leaner Energy, Less Waste, Safer Chemicals and Smarter Purchasing.

Going back to our restaurant analogy, the meal is now complete. We can sit back, reflect, compliment the work that made that meal possible and give thanks. We’re finished. Or are we?

Great chefs are never 100 percent satisfied with a meal. They’re always pushing the envelope, adding a new ingredient here or changing a spice there. Menu changes, too, are underway at HHI. Our core team, work teams and focus groups are reviewing the data measures, tweaking ingredients, refining measures and considering different offerings.

For the past three years, HHI has been the hottest ticket in town for sustainability in health care, and we can promise that the restaurant will remain open as a program of Practice Greenhealth. HHI will continue to be the place where hospitals can get started on their sustainability journey. By joining Practice Greenhealth, members can get a broader menu of benefits and services, including table service  for additional help with achieving HHI goals and submitting their data.

As we celebrate this important milestone in achieving better environmental health and sustainability in the health care sector, we thank you for your important efforts in leading your communities and the world to a healthier future. But the work doesn’t stop here—2015 will kick off the next phase of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative.

Bring your appetite!