Hospitals are big users of energy.  Each year, health facilities use 836 trillion Btu (British thermal unit) of energy. And every day, these same facilities create 6,600 tons of waste. Does anyone else sense an opportunity to help the environment? These are big numbers and they should catch your attention. They caught mine. I lead our Ethics and Compliance office at HCA, among other things, my team is responsible for our efforts to improve environmental sustainability at our facilities.

It’s a no-brainer that we should all try to make decisions that are environmentally friendly at home and at work. In healthcare, our number one priority is taking care of our patients. And sometimes what’s best for the patient isn’t always what’s best for the environment. Still, there are clear opportunities to reduce our impact on the environment without reducing the quality of care.

We’ve been working on ways to reduce our environmental impact for several years.  In 2009 we organized all those efforts and created an internal Sustainability Steering Committee and set up teams to focus on four areas of opportunity:

  1. Energy and Water ( currently we’re researching ways to reduce the energy our lights consume)
  2. Waste Stream
  3. Design and Construction (we already recycle 50% of construction waste)
  4. Environmentally Preferable Purchasing (EPP)

We’ll be telling you more about the work from each of the teams in future posts. Today, I want to talk about two things we’re working on that touches all four of the areas above.

Practice Greenhealth. We joined Practice Greenhealth in 2009. They are the nation’s leading group for organizations in the healthcare community who have made a commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly practices. Today, we’re part of their Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI). In fact, our hospitals make up 45% of the hospitals participating in the HHI. If you look at their agenda [pdf], you start to get a sense of some of the specific ways hospitals can begin to make changes. HCA is working through the opportunities around building and waste. I’m excited to share more with you about how those projects are going in future posts.

LEED Certification. If you’re a business with a building and you want to promote sustainability, you’re probably familiar with LEED certification. LEED has a great rating system but there is little chance that a hospital could ever comply with their standards. So a new LEED certification was created for healthcare. I mentioned earlier that there are some unique challenges that a healthcare facility faces. An operating room, for example, is not the most energy efficient space. Special lights and ventilation systems are required to provide quality care. The folks behind the LEED certification recognized this and other examples like it. So they developed the new rating system for healthcare facilities. Right now we are working on blue prints for a hospital we’ll be building soon that will be HCA’s fist LEED certified facility.

I’ve said before that our intention is to be a leader among healthcare companies in environmental practices. I hope that the information above has helped you get a sense of some of the work we’re pursuing to reach that goal. We’ll be talking about some of the specific projects very soon.

For now though, I would ask you what ideas you have. What are some of the ways you’ve seen businesses in healthcare or otherwise, make greener choices? What are ideas you have that maybe you haven’t seen, but wish someone would look into?