Six Ways Hospitals Can Reduce Their Carbon Footprints

By John Timmerman

The latest data from the International Monetary Fund’s Climate Change Indicators Dashboard provides a disappointing update in the fight to reduce carbon emissions around the world. Annual greenhouse gas emissions rebounded 6.4% last year to a record high, eclipsing the pre-pandemic peak as global economic activity resumed.

Hospitals and other healthcare facilities play a significant role in this effort: The U.S. healthcare system now accounts for 8.5% of the nation’s greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has specifically called on healthcare leadership to help tackle the climate crisis by reducing their organization’s emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050, publicly reporting on their progress, completing an inventory of value/supply chain emissions and developing climate resilience plans for their facilities. Meeting these mandates and reducing the industry’s carbon footprint is going to require new innovative thinking, creative solutions and a strategic plan.

Healthcare leaders can break this immense problem into more manageable categories by asking themselves these questions:

How do you reduce emissions that are a direct result of facilities operations?

What decisions can reduce emissions from the generation of the energy you purchase?

How do you better understand and reduce the indirect emissions from supply chain production and transportation?

How can you help affect change and reduce emissions associated with the transportation of patients and visitors?

The answers to these questions will provide you with six places to start reducing your hospital’s carbon footprint.

  1. Reducing emissions associated with the operation of your facilities
    As management guru Peter Drucker once said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” If you’re trying to reduce emissions from your facilities, your first task should be measuring current emissions to identify the biggest energy consumers, the most egregious greenhouse gas offenders and the potential areas for rapid improvement across the entirety of your facilities portfolio. That establishes your emissions baseline. You can then implement a measurement system, like the ENERGY STAR score of healthcare facilities, to help you track and report incremental progress. If you don’t have a baseline, you’ll never be able to quantify progress. From a net-zero perspective, consider green roofs or expanded green public spaces around the facility to absorb carbon.
  1. Incentivizing staff to change travel habits
    Your fleet and employee transportation count towards your operational emissions. From public transportation, to carpools, to preferred parking for electric/hybrid vehicles, the fewer staff members that drive an individual vehicle to your facility has a ripple effect on operational emissions. Also, look to areas of your staff that may not be directly involved with patient care, like administration or billing. During the pandemic we learned that many of these jobs can be performed in a hybrid work environment. Working a couple of days from home instead of driving into the workplace reduces overall vehicle emissions and potentially creates a healthier work-life balance.
  1. Reducing emissions associated with the generation of the energy you purchase
    If you have an option for energy providers, choose the one that creates energy most sustainably (wind, solar, hydro) as opposed to one creating high emissions from the burning of fossil fuels. However, if you don’t have a choice of energy providers, look to install wind/solar systems on site, use more natural light, install energy-efficient appliances and building systems, then seek out green construction alternatives to reduce the amount of energy that you need to purchase.
  1. Finding opportunities for re-use
    Always look for ways to recycle, re-use or repurpose. Any alternative to sending something to a landfill or incinerator helps reduce waste and emissions. It’s time to look beyond single-use devices or packages wherever possible. There may be new device suppliers that are outside your current partner network that offer better alternatives. Evaluate your relationships with specific vendors for each critical supply. From a pure “construction” perspective, any time you refurb or update a space, look for ways to reuse or recycle removed materials.
  1. Leveraging Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs)
    GPOs help healthcare providers realize savings and efficiencies by aggregating purchasing volume and using that leverage to negotiate discounts with vendors. That may include negotiated discounts on more energy-efficient systems to help you address operational emissions. However, GPOs provide logistical advantages that decrease emissions as well. Making one volume purchase and delivery could remove several deliveries from the equation. Connecting with local suppliers with maximized supply chains reduces the overall distance those supplies must travel. These cooperatives can also get you connected with local providers to efficiently address the projects on your climate resilience plan.
  1. Incentivizing patients/visitors to change travel habits
    Encourage the use of public transportation for non-emergency appointments and visits. You might consider off-site parking with smart vehicle shuttles to remove congestion around major facilities. Encourage patients in rural areas to go to the closest in-system satellite location rather than starting in the major facilities. One smart city initiative in Spain found that it wasn’t so much the volume of traffic causing emissions, it was the time those vehicles spent searching for parking that compounded the volume and inefficiency. Installing parking sensors and real-time directional signage can reduce inefficient movement and congestion throughout your parking facilities. Consider giving patients/visitors the option of video conferencing to reduce the need for visitor travel.

The road to carbon neutrality is long and winding. Establishing a baseline gives your organization a common starting point, a road map from where you are to where you want to go. The six areas identified above are opportunities to get some miles under your belt and rack up some quick wins to get your net zero journey started on a high note and arrive at your destination right on schedule.

John Timmerman serves as Product Marketing Manager at Gordian, a leading provider of insights, technology and expert services for all phases of the building lifecycle. An acclaimed writer and industry commentator, John’s 32-year career has been exemplified by the creative and innovative use of data and technology to solve business problems.