Contrary to the assumptions of some in the healthcare industry that the costs of implementing sustainability practices will exceed accrued savings, a recent Commonwealth Fund report found that if U.S. hospitals implemented sustainability practices, healthcare industry savings could total more than 15 billion dollars within 10 years time.
The U.S. healthcare sector currently has a large and costly environmental footprint. According to the EPA, U.S. hospitals currently generate 7,000 tons of waste daily. They spend over 10 billion dollars on energy costs annually, and the industry is estimated to account for 8% of all U.S. gas emissions as well as 7% of total carbon dioxide emissions.
Wasteful practices implemented by hospitals include: failing to recycle and reuse items like paper, plastic and cardboard; mistakenly placing nonhazardous waste in “red bag” waste containers; fully heating or cooling spaces that are unoccupied; failing to maintain equipment; neglecting to check for air and water leaks; allowing ORs to use disposable rather than reusable products; and, disposing of unused items from ORs.
By extrapolating data from hospitals already conducting waste reduction, energy reduction and efficient OR purchasing strategies, researchers were able to conclude that hospitals across the nations could save more than $5.4 billion in five years, and more than $15 billion in ten years, if they implemented the same practices.
The study debunks the idea that the costs to implement sustainable practices in the healthcare industry will exceed savings. The report shows that intervention costs, including capital costs, are relatively small and investments yield positive returns within a short time frame. Making changes as small as recycling and efficiently using equipment and products can yield large cost savings and reduce the unnecessarily large carbon footprint of the healthcare industry. Considering the state our healthcare industry is currently in, it can’t afford to not implement sustainability practices.
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