Green Saves Green: How Baptist Health South Florida's Environmental Strategy is Paying Off

It's no secret that hospitals face a dark cloud of reimbursement cuts to governmental health programs. It's also no secret that it's becoming harder and harder to find areas to find savings. There are only so many fixed costs, right?

Energy, supply chain and other "cost categories" can be managed effectively, but hospitals can go one step further — by going green. Gundersen Lutheran Health System in La Crosse, Wis., plans to be 100-percent energy independent (read: completely self-sufficient on energy needs) by 2014, and another health system is similarly entrenched in a green strategy.

Eric Wenke is the assistant vice president of strategy at Baptist Health South Florida.Coral Gables, Fla.-based Baptist Health South Florida is currently undergoing a "comprehensive green initiative," says Eric Wenke, assistant vice president of strategic planning. That means they are focusing on seven key areas, all of which have organization-wide impacts: energy, information technology, waste management and recycling, supply chain, construction services, communication and education, and clinical.

"It's a comprehensive program, covering many different areas," Mr. Wenke says. "It's what we're looking at across the organization, and we've been working on it for several years now. A more formal, high-level structure has been instituted over the past three years."

This broad plan has already paid dividends for Baptist Health South Florida, both on its bottom line and among its employees and community. "We are always focused on cultural change — a specific initiative with measurable results," Mr. Wenke says. "As the the largest not-for-profit organization and private employer in south Florida with 15,000 employees, we think about how we can shape parties' understanding of sustainability and green culture change and the effects this can have on home life and the greater community."

Mr. Wenke explains this shift in strategy is obviously good for the environment, but hospitals and health systems will see the benefits stretch even further.

Energy and information technology

Not every hospital or health system can completely revamp its energy strategy overnight. Renewable energy sources, such as geothermal pumps and solar projects, are effective solutions but may not be within immediate reach. Baptist Health has also looked into the cumulative effect of "small" items, such as retrocommissioning and IT, which can quickly add up.

"We've looked into the powering down of equipment when not in use," Mr. Wenke says. "Shutting off or putting computer equipment like monitors into a low power state when not in use saves roughly $150,000 to $200,000 and 2 million kilowatt hours per year. We've expanded that to CPUs as well, adding up to $300,000 to $400,000 in cost savings."

Waste management

Baptist Health currently recycles 200 tons of materials per month — that's the equivalent of roughly 20 semi trucks. Mr. Wenke says that material stays out of landfills but also makes an immediate financial impact.

"In terms of our bottom line, recycled materials are less expensive to dispose of, as we only pay a cost for the pickup, which is not a per-ton measurement," Mr. Wenke says. "You pay for the fact that someone is coming and picking [the recycling] up, but you don't pay per weight [like trash removal]."

Supply chain

The health system has looked at several ways to replace materials and supplies with eco-friendly alternatives. For example, last year, it converted to a foam-free dining environment, meaning it eliminated polystyrene foam, a common environmental hazard since it cannot biodegrade. Instead, Baptist Health South Florida uses dining ware materials made of recycled paper, corn or sugarcane.

"They are all renewable alternatives," Mr. Wenke says. "This is one area where our costs have increased from the change but are more than compensated by the savings from other green initiatives. Even though our costs may have increased, it provided a community benefit."

Construction

West Kendall Baptist Hospital is located in Miami.

West Kendall Baptist Hospital in Miami, Baptist Health's newest hospital and the first new hospital in south Florida in the last three decades, is LEED Gold certified. Mr. Wenke says it has become standard now to use high-efficiency equipment, such as dual flush toilets, as well as regional and natural materials — which many hospitals and health systems can easily incorporate into their strategic plans.

Baptist Health went an extra step further: They made sure access to West Kendall Baptist was easy for everyone, which provides more of a community benefit, especially for employees. "We coordinated with the county to build a mass transportation hub so employees can easily travel to the site," Mr. Wenke adds. "We also subsidize mass transportation usage by all employees. If you purchase a monthly pass to use mass transportation, we cover 50 percent of that pass. Several hundred employees use it."

Communication and education

Hospitals that make the time and investment to these types of green initiatives should communicate the successes and impacts both internally among employees as well as with the community. Mr. Wenke says endorsing these types of environmental projects and encouraging the community to be involved makes the effort even more worthwhile.

"Invite partners and vendors to come onsite and share programs on how we can work closer together," he says. "Pass this on so others can do the same."

Clinical

Baptist Health works with Practice Greenhealth, a non-profit organization that helps support environmental solutions to create a better and greener workplace and community. That has led the health system to start several new green projects for clinical programs. For example, they are working to "green the operating room" and are looking at ways to reduce waste and purchase reusable OR and surgical items versus disposable ones.

"We feel that it's a great thing to do for multiple benefits," Mr. Wenke says. "For the environmental impact, for a number of financial and health benefits — it's something that we're very proud of and looking forward to seeing more throughout the industry."

More Articles on Hospital Green Management:

How Gundersen Lutheran Health System Will Be Energy Independent by 2014

5 Keys to a Greener Supply Chain

A New Green Standard? How Hospitals Can Utilize Geothermal Energy to Save the Environment and Money

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