Going Green – It Can Be Done

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“Values, belief and passion, not reason or a business case, underlie the big decisions in life. They should also underlie our decision to commit to environmentally responsible health care,” said Helen Wright, CEO of Cambridge Memorial Hospital, the first winner of the Overall Leadership Award in the OHA/Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care Green Health Care Awards, November 2001.

In her presentation to the first annual educational session on Green Health Care organized by the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care at the OHA Convention in November 2001, the Honourable Elizabeth Witmer, Minister of Environment for Ontario and former Minister of Health, noted that hospitals have a particular duty to be environmentally responsible. She suggested that they should address issues of energy conservation, reduction of solid waste production, reduced emissions of toxic wastes and by-products and reduction or elimination of pesticides in grounds maintenance. Among the speakers who addressed these issues were:

Paul Muldoon, Executive Director of the Canadian Environmental Law Association, who stressed the existing legal requirements on hospitals to be environmentally responsible. Recent regulatory changes that will affect hospitals, include tougher Canada-wide emission standards for mercury, dioxins and furans; the goal of virtual elimination of persistent toxic substances under the Canadian Environmental Protection Act; and the Supreme Court’s recent ruling permitting the Town of Hudson to ban the use of cosmetic pesticides, which strengthens the power of municipalities to regulate in broader areas, which might also include hospitals’ use of toxics and production and disposal of wastes, especially via incinerators.

Jane Maslowski, Manager of Environment, Health and Safety for the Laboratory Medicine Program, Winnipeg Regional Health Authority, and a Director of Manitoba’s Green Procurement Network, who described environmentally-responsible procurement. She stated that hospitals must demonstrate due diligence and risk management as part of sound corporate management; need to look at full costs, not just the purchase price (for example, the full costs of mercury include decontamination equipment and staff training); should develop tender and contract language that requires providers of goods and services to comply with environmental requirements, and work with other public sector organizations to leverage purchasing power in the market.

Chris Wolnik, Executive Director of the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention and Shannon-Melissa Dunlop, Environmental Manager at St. Mary’s Hospital in Kitchener, described the ISO 14001 certification process and the work involved in achieving certification. The benefits include a better reputation in the community, increased involvement and morale among staff, improved waste management, spills management and emergency preparedness, and decreased liability, as well as being better prepared for the environmental portion of accreditation.

In addition, the OHA and the Coalition jointly awarded the first “Green Health Care Awards”. The Overall Leadership Award went to Cambridge Memorial Hospital, the first hospital in North America to be ISO 14001 certified. Since CMH is profiled in a separate article in Hospital News, (and also in a three-page article in Hospital Quarterly (4(4), Summer 2001, pp32 – 34), it is not further described here.

The other award winners were:
Norfolk General Hospital in the Energy Conservation category. Since 1991, the hospital has decreased its overall energy budget 22 per cent, with annual savings of at least $132,000 per year, every year since 1995. Energy conservation initiatives have included the replacement of boilers and the cooling tower with smaller, more energy efficient models; replacement of hot water storage systems with instantaneous hot water heaters; using more efficient motors, fans and pumps wherever possible; switching from water-cooled to air-cooled systems for small refrigeration systems; and putting in energy-efficient lights, combined with local control over lighting on nursing units and occupancy sensors in other areas.

St. Mary’s General Hospital, Kitchener in the Pollution Prevention category. The hospital has established a “green team”, developed a corporate environmental policy, put in place an environmental management system, and became the second hospital in North America to achieve ISO 14001 registration. Highlights include shutting down the hospital incinerator; reducing the weight of biomedical waste by 36 per cent between 1998 and 2001; implementing recycling/recovery/re-use programs for a wide range of materials; increasing hospital recycling by 33 per cent; instituting a “no chemical” lawn and grounds management policy; almost completely eliminating mercury sphygmomanometers and significantly reducing mercury thermometers; promoting alternative transportation methods for hospital staff; reducing air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions through energy conservation; instituting an environmentally-responsible procurement policy; and supporting local community groups protesting plans that could pose a threat to the health and wellbeing of the local community.

Valerie O’Grady, Coordinator of Environmental Affairs at the Hospital for Sick Children in Toronto, was recognized for Outstanding Personal Leadership. Over a number of years, she has played a key role in reducing the hospital’s environmental impact, achieving an 80 per cent reduction in biomedical waste volumes, a 78 per cent increase in recycling volumes, saving 20,000 trees due to paper recycling and shredding initiatives, diversion of 25 tonnes of materials from landfills through donations to the community, and a net saving over seven years of $453,000.

These and other examples of environmentally-responsible health care can be found in two new reports published by the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care soon to be available for downloading, at the Coalition’s website (www.greenhealthcare.ca). “Doing Less Harm” is a comprehensive review of all aspects of green health care while “Going Green” is a set of case studies of environmentally-responsible health care in ten different facilities in Ontario. So let’s go green – it can be done and it’s good for our health!