With healthcare facilities generating more than 5.9 million tons of waste each year, contributing 8% of the total greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and spending $8 billion annually on energy alone (according to Practice Greenhealth), you would think sustainability would be the hottest trend in the healthcare industry.
However, while it is slowly gaining momentum in the environmental services arena, there are several industry-wide challenges to be faced. Early results of Health Facilities Management’s 2015 Health Care Facilities Sustainable Operations Survey are revealing the top barriers to implementing sustainability in a healthcare setting.
According to the early survey analysis, the #1 challenge in establishing sustainable practices — noted by 68% of hospitals surveyed — is competing investments and spending priorities. This is the same top challenge that was identified in the organization’s 2013 survey.
Other barriers to sustainability highlighted by 2015 survey respondents include employee time limitations and not enough staffing to bring energy efficiency initiatives into fruition.
Healthcare Facilities Management (HFM) goes on to state their findings are right in line with what they are hearing from experts in the healthcare field. In a recent column, Soriant Healthcare Consultant Rock Jensen notes the conundrum of sustainability initiatives for hospitals. That is, despite the promises of long-term benefits, the up-front costs needed to proceed often stops many green projects in their tracks. He writes “hospital leaders don’t want to harm the ecosystem, but have to balance the benefits of sustainable products and processes against rising costs and decreased revenues.”
There are hospitals who are breaking the mold, moving forward with energy solutions, and reaping the rewards. The article calls out Peace Island Medical Center, who’s sustainable design concepts allow it to use one-third of the energy of a typical health facility in its area, and Gundersen Health System, who has used energy efficiency to reduce costs and slow fee increases.
Another innovative organization, Arnot Ogden Medical Center (AOMC), even found a way to implement a comprehensive energy retrofit program that will deliver $14.5M in guaranteed energy and operational savings without having to spend any upfront capital. They used a creative financing option from ABM that allowed them to leverage their future savings to fund the entire project!