Sustainable Living & Sustainable Lifestyle

U.S. News University Directory explores how the healthcare industry is going green.

Sustainability and Healthcare: The Green Connection

Spurred by the federal Energy Star program and increasing environmental awareness, the healthcare industry is looking at new green technology to cut costs and benefit the planet.

Hospitals and medical centers are now designing energy efficient buildings and looking for sustainable practices through phases of healthcare. Medical companies are seeking ways to build using green energy solutions and sustainable materials.

Hospitals and Medical Centers Focus on Energy Efficiency

Healthcare industry is going greenThe Energy Star program, an initiative of the Environmental Protection Agency since 1992, has established energy consumption for and given its approval to products in 60 categories, both household and commercial and thousands of individual models, the agency said. Its entry into construction in 1995 with certifications for energy efficient homes has grown to energy efficient buildings in commercial construction with more than 13,000 buildings covering billions of square feet of commercial space  that are part of the Energy Star program.

Those numbers include about a quarter of the nation’s hospitals, the agency said in an article by the American Society for Healthcare Engineering published on the Energy Star website.

Hospitals and healthcare facilities consume tremendous amounts of energy, amounting to about 2.5 times the amount used in a commercial building of the same size, and are behind only food service in energy use, according to an article on the website Environmental Leader, a publication on energy for executives.

The EPA is just now looking at expanding the same ratings Energy Star uses for appliances to healthcare equipment, its coordinator Clark Reed said in an article on the Labs for the 21st Century website.

Currently there is no energy rating system for medical equipment or industry standard for energy consumption, Reed said in the article. To correct that, the EPA is working with the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers to study the energy consumption of medical equipment while operating and on standby.

The study expects to look at 39 types of medical equipment, including MRI, CAT scans, PET scans, X-ray technologies, respirators and heart monitors.

Even without an established Energy Star, companies are producing equipment that can reduce power costs.

In 2011, the FDA approved the use of a new CT scanner by GE that the company said on its website will cut operating and ambient cooling energy by 15% and on standby mode for nights and weekends will save 45% of the energy each machine consumes while not in use.

Radius Health is working with UCLA to develop an x-ray machine that would replace energy-hungry vacuum tubes as part of its improved technology in addition to other improvements over standard machines, according to a release published on the UCLA site.

The search for green technologies in healthcare goes beyond energy use.

Reduction of Medical Waste and Toxins Creates a Healthier Environment

The healthcare industry produces 7,000 tons of waste a day, including solid waste and medical waste, the EPA said. Mercury is present in medical devices and equipment. Also, potentially toxic materials are present in cleaning products, the agency said.

Reducing a medical facility’s environmental footprint involves reducing red-bag waste, proper waste management and increased recycling, the EPA said.

Some of these steps could have an impact on everyday nursing care such as materials used for IV bags and tubing.

Since 2005 a California hospital group now known as Dignity Health stopped using polyvinyl chloride for IV bags, solutions and tubing. And it recently said it will use pigment-free plastics in its facilities, according to an article on the Plastics Today website.

Another article on the website said Kaiser Permanente, which spends $1 billion annually on medical supplies, stopped buying IV equipment made with the toxins PVC and DEHP (di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate).

Improvements in wireless body sensors could change the equipment EKG and radiation therapist use, allowing the devices to consume less energy, according to National Center for Biotechnology Information website.

Lab technicians may find themselves working in facilities using green technologies such as an effort at Yale School of Medicine to make its medical labs more environmentally friendly.

Renovations to a university lab included sensors that turn lights off when a room is empty, adding windows to use daylight and reducing the flow of lab faucets along with other measures to cut water use by 35%, the university’s medical school website said.

Hospitals are also looking at products used by environmental service workers by replacing different chemicals used to clean patient rooms with green chemicals, according to the Health Career Advancement Program website.

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