The Future Is Green

Want more green products? Greenhealth Exchange is making it happen. So can you.

By K.F. MITCHELL on May 8, 2017

The Greenhealth Exchange website allows visitors to see what’s offered and become members.

The Greenhealth Exchange website allows visitors to see what’s offered and become members.


Appearing on the scene only in May of last year, Greenhealth Exchange is already making headway on supply chain sustainability for a number of participating health care systems. The green purchasing cooperative is co-owned by Dartmouth-Hitchcock, Dignity Health, Gundersen Health System, University of Vermont Health Network, Marshfield Clinic Health System, Mayo Clinic, Partners HealthCare, Virginia Mason Medical Center, Health Care Without Harm and Practice Greenhealth.

Greenhealth Exchange was designed to take the guesswork out of green purchasing by providing direct comparisons across as many product lines as possible. Each comparison differentiates products by price, environmental impact and sustainability rating, while clear benchmarks that reveal the benefit of adopted products are tracked and reported to participating partners. The exchange is adapting a proprietary software called PurView, a product of Underwriters Laboratory. It is the kind of technology you find behind the scenes at Walmart and other retail outlets to help maintain a competitive edge in the market—except in this case, it will be highlighting the safest, most sustainable products at the most affordable price.

“I think that one of the biggest issues is the price of green products,” said John Strong, president of Greenhealth Exchange. “One of the things that we are trying to do is make it more desirable to the buyer by scaling niche products and promoting aggregation to create that critical mass. The real mission is to accelerate the adoption of green products and really make them more widely available.”

Big data and an aggregated volume of like-minded health systems allows Greenhealth Exchange to go to market and get the best price for the highest-quality products that meet comprehensive greening criteria outlined by Greenhealth Exchange. For health systems that may not have the manpower to take on this vetting process, Greenhealth Exchange aims to make it a lot easier to implement a greening program within the supply chain.

“We work closely with manufacturers,” said Mary Starr, who serves as vice president of customer care for Greenhealth Exchange. “It requires some focus, and that is what we bring to bear in the pricing and selection of products that meet our requirements.”

Greenhealth Exchange is just getting started, but the organization already has six contracts with manufacturers and distributors in various product categories and is working with health system co-owners and information technology companies like Ariba to set up a readily available online catalog of products and several thousand individual line items, from furnishings to cutlery. For example, about 1,500 office supplies, including paper and plastics, are being pored over in great detail. In addition, as many as 15 additional categories are in development.

Performance evaluations are also conducted for manufacturers who have promise but fall below standard. An example would be a supplier that uses harmful chemicals in the manufacture of otherwise environmentally friendly products, such as compostable flatware. The exchange also examines sustainability of water usage and energy intensity, product distribution and transport, food localization and other metrics.

Vetting the vendors involves asking targeted questions, said Sister Mary Ellen Leciejewski, OP, director of ecology at Dignity Health. “[And] once we have the answers, what do we do with them?” she asked. “If it is about chemicals in products, we may not be the experts. Practice Greenhealth, Health Care Without Harm and Greenhealth Exchange have access to the experts. We need to be working together.”

At Dignity Health, a vast health care network across California, Nevada and Arizona that includes 39 hospitals and more than 400 other care centers, the health system first considered a sustainability program about 20 years ago and has since made a success of upgrading, reprocessing, repurposing and recycling a number of devices and materials. One of Dignity Health’s success stories is the recycling of blue wrap throughout the entire network to be reused in picnic benches, recycling bins, chairs and tote bags that go right back into Dignity facilities. The network also has switched to flame-retardant-free furniture and has been in the process of eliminating many PVC-based materials; the first to go were IV bags.

Dignity Health took its sustainability program a giant leap forward by partnering with Greenhealth Exchange—and the exchange benefits as well. For example, the health system is taking advantage of a new supplier contract for office products that will provide a significant cost savings not only for its facilities, but also for all current and future Greenhealth Exchange partners. Greenhealth Exchange is using this contract and others to help populate its information system and product catalog, which will go public once all line items have been properly evaluated.

“As we do this work, we have already found results that are proving the concept,” said Starr. “In fact, when analyzed, the just-completed contract for office supplies will not only save money for Dignity Health, but using the products that have been vetted and added to the Greenhealth Exchange catalog will double the percentage of sustainable office supplies it is purchasing.”

Having more sustainable products available, after all, is the ultimate goal. Together with its partners, Greenhealth Exchange is helping to ensure that the future of supply chain sustainability is not just bright, but bright green.