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Green hospital movement not about 'hugging trees,' White House panel says

by Brendon Nafziger, DOTmed News Associate Editor | July 26, 2012

"It's a bargain -- safer for patients, safer for workers and obviously safer for the environment," she said.

"Not about hugging trees"

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In fact, many of the nearly dozen panelists said the biggest challenge to instituting green reforms was almost always a personal one: convincing people at large institutions that the changes matter -- not just to protect the environment, but also to promote efficiency and even improve the bottom line.

"This is not about hugging trees," said Seema Wadhwa, director of sustainability with the Healthy Hospitals Initiative.

Christina Vernon, executive sustainability officer with Cleveland Clinic, said she had a hard time convincing the fleet manager of their buses to join a sustainability program. But once he was on board, he set aggressive fuel conservation goals, and his own drivers developed a plan to change how buses started in the morning, that ended up saving the system nearly $45,000 a year on fuel costs, she said.

Dr. Jeffrey Thompson, CEO of Gundersen Health System, agreed that people were the biggest challenge.

"The hardest problem is not actually solving the problem but getting people to believe they can solve the problem," he said.

Nonetheless, when planning the construction of a new hospital, despite the skepticism of his colleagues, he was able to get the contractors to use 98 percent recyclable or reused construction material, and also to drive down the projected energy usage from 250 or 260 kbtu per square foot per year, the standard for a U.S. hospital, to probably around 120 or 115 kbtu per square foot per year, when the hospital's finished.

"People have to believe you can get from where you're at, and have the discipline to make a plan, measure it, redo your plan, measure it again and stay at it," he said.

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