Greener Health Care

by Alison Lueders, Great Green Editing

Here’s a health care story that is not about the Affordable Care Act. Rather, it’s about how green initiatives can dovetail with both quality care and affordable care.

Nationally, the health care sector comprises 16% of U.S. GDP and produces 8% of greenhouse gas emissions annually. In Florida, health  care and social services comprise 8.8% of the state GDP as of 2011. A robust health care sector is a key part of our quality of life. It needs to be at a cost people can manage. And that is where greener practices can play a part.

Greening initiatives in health care run the gamut from building greener facilities to better managing waste. For example:

  • St. Joseph’s Hospital- North was LEED-certified last year. It uses building materials with recycled content, low flow water fixtures, and 100% reclaimed water for its landscape.
  • USF Health has transitioned to electronic health records, saving mounds of paper and reducing the need for storage space, while enabling remote access to medical records and electronic prescribing of medications.
  • The Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, FL broke ground in 2010 on an extended-stay facility that is LEED-certified Silver. The facility maximizes energy efficiency and indoor air quality, reduces emissions and waste, and provides enhanced safety features.

Of course, the health care sector is subject to the same impacts from climate change as the rest of us. A 2011 study by Kaiser Permanente identified threats from climate change in four areas:

  • increased accidents and injuries due to more severe weather
  • increased incidence of respiratory diseases from air pollution caused by burning fossil fuels
  • increased incidence of infectious diseases that spread further as the planet warms and insects like mosquitoes thrive
  • as yet unknown issues like deaths from water shortages or conflicts over resources

As a result of its own findings, Kaiser announced it would reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 30% by 2020 compared to 2008 levels.

The size of the health care sector means its efforts to go green will have a significant impact. One simple way we can all help is by staying healthy, and thereby using LESS health care resources. One of the best ways to do that? Get outdoors and enjoy Florida’s beautiful surroundings. We can walk, bike, hike, swim, garden etc. for most of the year. Do that, and with a little luck, we can stay out of the doctor’s office!