Healthcare is where you’ll find some of the most energy-intensive buildings of any industry, second only to the food service sector. According to EE Publishers, most hospitals and related healthcare facilities use three times more energy than a typical commercial building. However, it’s mainly due to the use of outdated and inefficient systems.
To put it another way, there is a myriad of changes a hospital can make to reduce its energy usage and overall environmental impact. In doing so, hospitals can reap tremendous benefits. Among them are reduced wastefulness, lower operating costs, safer patients, more comfortable staff, and an improved public image.
Remember, it’s not only energy usage that contributes to the environmental impact of hospitals. There are several other factors as well, including:
- Infectious and hazardous waste disposal.
- The use of mercury in devices and equipment.
- Greenhouse gas emissions.
- Water usage.
Improving Energy Efficiency
Renewable energy is a great way to save energy and can include solar panels, partnerships with hydroelectric utility plants, and wind turbines with foundation bolts and other parts being manufactured by companies such as Dyson Corp. Heating and cooling costs can be reduced with HVAC systems and high-efficiency windows.
In areas with lower foot traffic, hospitals can use motion sensors to automate lighting. During the summer, air conditioning usage can be reduced with natural solar shades that harness the power of sunlight. Replacing fluorescent lighting with modern LED alternatives not only lowers power consumption but also phases out the hazards of mercury. When this was done at Western Health in Melbourne, they managed to save around 1,2000 Mwh of electricity per year. That’s the equivalent to around 165 households.
The use of modern, energy-efficient beds can also help. In this list of 2020 nursing trends, it was identified that nurses are becoming more technologically savvy, using equipment such as Smart Beds to make their jobs easier and save energy in the process.
Hospitals can opt for Energy Star-rated appliances, which are certified to be more efficient than their uncertified counterparts. This applies to kitchen appliances, televisions, washing machines, computers and much more.
Reducing Water Consumption
Seattle’s Virginia Mason Medical Center managed to save an astonishing six million gallons of water after taking the initiative to reduce their consumption by:
- Replacing a linear accelerator with a more efficient model.
- Switching out washroom faucets, showers, and toilets for more efficient alternatives.
- Using more efficient dishwashers.
- Encouraging staff to participate in water-saving practices.
Handling Hazardous Materials
Hospitals traditionally choose to incinerate hazardous medical waste created when treating patients. While convenient, the method emits a lot of toxic fumes. Alternatives include hybrid steam, microwave units, and autoclaves that cleanly and efficiently sterilize infectious waste.
One benefit, particularly with autoclaves, is that the resulting material can be recycled or used as fuel, thus keeping it out of landfills. Hospitals can also become more diligent about educating staff on the correct disposal of contaminated items and properly segregating waste.
Additionally, pharmacy departments can install tablet counter systems to streamline the medication dispensing process and reduce the potential for human error. It can also track inventory levels and alert staff when stocks are running low, helping to minimize medication waste and benefiting the environment.
Reprocessing Medical Equipment
Here are two ways that hospitals can reprocess medical equipment:
SUDS: There are a number of single-use devices (SUDs) that end up cluttering landfills.
One solution comes from a US healthcare system called Kaiser Permanente. This organization secures the SUDs before shipping them to a vendor for cleaning and repackaging. From here, the instruments can be reused again and again, thus vastly reducing waste.
Kits: In operating rooms, packs are stocked with a number of universal surgical supplies.
These are typically opened before patients arrive, which means that unused equipment gets discarded once the procedure is complete. A greener alternative would be to customize the packs for the specific operation, assembling them with only the required supplies. This ensures that no equipment goes to waste.
Eliminating Chemical Usage
The proper disinfection of surfaces is paramount to a clean and safe hospital. However, conventional cleaning solutions are loaded with harmful chemicals that endanger the health of both humans and the planet. Hospitals should look out for certifying nonprofit labels such as EcoLogo, Safer Choice, and GreenSeal.
Saving Food and Fuel
Some hospitals obtain their food supply from distant locations, which means the produce is hauled by large, gas-guzzling trucks. To eliminate this problem, hospitals can partner with regional food distributors, who can help them reduce the distance their food supply must travel. Local produce is fresher than imported food, which leads to happier patients.
Hospitals can also offer vegan food to accommodate different patients. Plus, the healthier and tastier the meals, the less waste will remain to be discarded. When the time comes for the leftover food to be disposed of, hospitals can take a greener approach by hiring compost firms to collect their waste.
It’s evident that hospitals can take care of both their patients and the environment. These changes may take time to be fully implemented but are well worth the effort considering their benefits.