You Are What You Buy

By Janet Brown, Director, Facility Engagement, Practice Greenhealth Director, Content and Outreach, Healthier Hospitals Initiative on November 27, 2013

The more we purchase, the more we create waste.

EPP Pledge Signers

Inova Health System

North Shore LIJ Health System

Fairview Health Services

Gundersen Lutheran Health System, Inc.

Stanford University Medical Center

Kaiser Permanente Health System

University Hospitals


UC Davis Health System

Virginia Mason Medical Center

Our trash is the stuff we buy. The stuff we buy becomes our trash. While many hospitals start their sustainability journey with a focus on managing waste, it’s only a matter of time before they realize that to truly impact the waste stream and the environment for the long term, they have to learn from the waste generated by the products and services they purchase and use in the delivery of care.

Health care is a place of healing—and toxic chemicals, excessive packaging, and sheer volumes of waste are not conducive to a healing environment. If we think of purchasing as the tollbooth to an exclusive club, we can control the flow of materials into health care and the environment. Now, visualize the purchasing value analysis team as the gatekeeper. A cast of characters outside are jockeying for position—trying to do everything they can to get in the door. It’s up to the gatekeeper to keep the bad ones from entering. So how do we tell the good guys from the bad guys?

We can start with Practice Greenhealth’s Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical Products. The standardized disclosure language was a team effort developed by Practice Greenhealth, Amerinet, HealthTrust, MedAssets, Novation LLC, and Premier healthcare alliance—with input and review by membership suppliers, hospitals, and health systems. Using a standardized list of product disclosure criteria helps the supply chain respond to the sector’s growing interest in healthier products and services. The disclosure covers chemicals of concern, recyclability, packaging details, waste prevention opportunities, and more. Hospitals can pledge to use the disclosure questions on the Practice Greenhealth website.

Goals of the Standardized Questions

The development of the Standardized Questions for Medical Products seeks to achieve several goals:

  • Provide a supply chain tool to identify key environmental attributes of concern to the health care sector in order to inform purchasing decisions.
  • Facilitating collaboration among the largest purchasers of medical products to accelerate the demand for and increase the purchase of products and services that—based on evidence—reduce environmental and human health impact on patients, staff, and the community.
  • Inform and educate the health care community—including suppliers, purchasers, health care professionals, and others—about environmental and public health concerns important to health care and the communities served.
  • Create a consistent platform to reduce the RFI/RFP burden on suppliers. Each purchasing entity remains free to decide what to do with the information obtained in response to the questions.
  • Improve the availability of cost-effective and environmentally preferable products and services and reduce the environmental/public health footprint of the health care sector.
  • Engage suppliers in the process to inform them of the product attributes that are of the greatest concern and provide them the opportunity for input into refining the questions for additional clarity.

Using the Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical Products is a requirement of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative’s Smarter Purchasing Challenge. Any hospital enrolled in the Smarter Purchasing Challenge must pledge to use the disclosure language when contracting for medical products.

Once hospitals make this commitment, they take on one, two, or all three goals of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative’s Smarter Purchasing Challenge:

The Healthier Hospitals Initiative is about strength in numbers. The more hospitals that commit to one of the goals of the Smarter Purchasing Challenge, the more powerful the message to the supply chain. The 13 HHI sponsoring health systems alone represent $200 billion in purchasing dollars. Hospitals have the power in the marketplace to send a strong message that they can provide high quality patient care, reduce costs and demonstrate their commitment to healthier environments. Green cleaning, healthier food, safer chemicals—it starts with purchasing.

Join the massive groundswell and sign onto HHI’s Smarter Purchasing Challenge. Check out the various case studies, sharing calls and webinars. Pull your team together and demonstrate the power of purchasing and realize the benefits—to the environment, to the bottom line, to the patient, and to the staff.

Learn more at