Sustainability and the Patient Experience

Insights from a new Sodexo and Practice Greenhealth study highlight how sustainability practices affect patient and visitor satisfaction.

By Alison Saine, Director, Consumer Insights, Sodexo Culinary Solutions on October 16, 2015

sustainability graphic

As the HEALTH care landscape continues to change and patient satisfaction as a metric becomes more critical than ever, many hospitals are evaluating what does—or doesn’t—make an impact in improving the patient experience. Simultaneously, health care organizations are increasingly taking a leadership role in environmental and sustainability issues within their communities.

But this focus on the patient experiencee makes it apparent that a gap exists in available research, namely: How do sustainable practices, specifically in dining, truly impact patient satisfaction and loyalty?

Until now. As a recognized leader in sustainability in the RobecoSAM Sustainability Yearbook 2014 and a Practice Greenhealth member since fall 2014, Sodexo joined with Practice Greenhealth to conduct an extensive consumer survey to fill this gap. The Patient and Visitor Perceptions of Sustainable Practices study’s objective is to evaluate if sustainability practices actually resonate positively with patients and visitors.


Sodexo’s research shows that while “sustainability” is a more common term today than a decade ago, only 54 percent of respondents said they were very or somewhat familiar with it.1 Conversely, once the concept is defined, an overwhelming 94 percent of patients and visitors believe that sustainability is extremely, very or somewhat important.


While there is some confusion around the definition of sustainability, patients and visitors do clearly recognize specific sustainable practices and see how they benefit their health care experience.

  • Among respondents who noticed sustainability practices:
  • Ninety-four percent reported satisfaction with the overall hospital experience.2
  • Ninety-two percent reported satisfaction with the food and beverage experience.
  • Eighty-six percent indicated likelihood that the patient would choose to return to that hospital.

One caveat: Hospitals do need to communicate their sustainable practices individually and not as overarching green initiatives for higher impact. Although sustainability efforts do result in very high levels of satisfaction for patients who notice them, only 27 percent of respondents shared that they were aware of sustainable practices.

However, investing in sustainability practices can result in additional benefits to your organization due to their positive impact on patient satisfaction and likelihood of return.


“All sustainability practices are not the same when it comes to impacting patient satisfaction,” said Alison Saine, director, consumer insights at Sodexo Culinary Solutions. “We’ve outlined two distinct categories: the ‘Expected’ and the ‘Exciters.’ ”

Expected. According to Saine, there are two types of features in this category. “There are must-be features, such as healthy patient meals and healthy options in the café, that are expected to be present for patients and visitors alike. If not present, satisfaction decreases. Then there are one-dimensional features, such as recycling and energy-savings measures. With these, more is better, and each directly increases satisfaction.”

Exciters. Food sourced from local farmers, fresh and local produce, healthy vending choices and even composting are features that can help differentiate your organization. “These practices can delight patients and visitors, driving satisfaction, making a lasting impression and helping a health care system stand out from the competition,” said Saine. “However, our research shows a system will see no negative impact by waiting to launch these practices. There is only potential for a positive return.”

The joint study found that the following sustainable practices should have top priority for implementation—and clear communication—due to patient and visitor expectations:

  • healthy patient meals that meet nutritional standards
  • reduce, reuse, recycle
  • healthy food in the cafeteria
  • reducing food waste
  • energy-saving initiatives


Improving the patient experience (and impacting patient satisfaction metrics) has become a key business driver in the health care industry. But improved satisfaction can also lead to increased revenue.

In 2014, approximately $1.1 billion was redistributed through Value-Based Purchasing for Medicare and Medicaid alone—up from $850 million in 2013. Thirty percent of VBP is based on patient satisfaction results.3

Seventy percent of hospitals rank patient experience as a top priority over the next three years.4 Meanwhile, effective management of patient loyalty could potentially mean nearly $4 million in revenue for a typical hospital.5

For hospital CEOs and C-suite executives, value metrics such as patient satisfaction (64 percent) and clinical performance (63 percent) are now driving compensation incentives nearly as much as volume metrics (operating margin, 67 percent).6


Sodexo’s study focused on dining practices, but the study also validates the fact that in general, sustainability practices should have an increasing role in your strategy for improving patient loyalty and satisfaction at your health care organization.

Likewise, another key takeaway is that it is vitally important to make your sustainability practices visible, relevant and positioned so they are recognized and understood by patients, visitors and employees alike. Driving home the impact of these practices is essential to improving patient satisfaction and your bottom line, making it a win-win for health care.

  1. Health Care Sustainability. Sodexo–Practice Greenhealth. April 2015.
  2. “Connecting Community and Employee Wellness to Healthy Food Service Programs.” Sodexo Breakout. CleanMed 2015.
  3. Patient Satisfaction Critical to Hospital Value-Based Purchasing Program. The Hospitalist. October 2012.
  4. Getting “Clued In” to the Patient Experience Yields Bottom-Line Results. Becker’s Hospital Review. August 22, 2013. 
  5. The Three Things a CExO Needs to Know. The Advisory Board Company. September 24, 2014. 
  6. Restructuring Executive Compensation for the Shift from Volume to Value. HealthLeaders Media Intelligence, November 2013.

Want to learn more? Request a copy of the whitepaper from the author at