5 Keys to a Greener Supply Chain

We've all heard the "Three R’s" (Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) that help to maximize efficiency and eliminate waste from our routine. Hospital leaders may think going green is costly, yet there are several ways to improve sustainability while maintaining profitability. In honor of Earth Day, here are five ideas that can turn ordinary, everyday practices into areas of opportunity.

1. Cut back emissions through vendor consolidation. Using a prime vendor to consolidate supply orders into large bulk deliveries reduces your number of deliveries in any given week. Many of these vendors participate in the Environmental Protection Agency's SmartWay Transport Partnership program, which creates incentives for freight companies to improve supply chain fuel efficiency.

2. Reduce paper use through electronic ordering.The average hospital produces close to three tons of waste per day and upwards of 80 percent of this is non-hazardous, mostly paper product. Maximizing your use of electronic data interchange systems for vendor transactions will reduce paper. EDI also increases efficiency and lowers administrative costs, so pay close attention to which of your vendors require paper ordering.

3. Choose green products. Manufacturers are increasingly producing more natural medical goods that are cost-savers or cost-neutral and providers are responding. Kaiser Permanente recently announced that it is replacing its current IV solution bags and tubing with materials that are free of two chemicals shown to be potentially harmful to humans and the environment. In addition to being green, this decision will save the company an estimated $5 million per year. Draft an environmental purchasing policy for your organization that incorporates a switch to greener products and practices.

4. Increase your energy awareness. According to the EPA's ENERGY STAR® program:
  • Every $1 a non-profit healthcare organization saves on energy is equivalent to $20 in new hospital revenue, and;
  • Every five percent energy cost reduction for for-profit hospitals can increase earnings per share by one cent.

Hospital operations are energy-intensive, so incorporating simple steps to reduce energy consumption can add up to long-term savings. Low-cost supply purchasing ideas — such as buying energy efficient light bulbs or installing motion sensors in rooms that are used with less frequency — are available on the EPA's website.

5. Eliminate cardboard. Corrugated cardboard represents a large portion of the solid waste that gets discarded by hospitals each year. It takes up valuable storage space and significantly increases waste disposal costs for providers due to its bulkiness. Yet it is one of the easiest materials to recycle. Many vendors offer recycling programs such as one in Los Angeles, where a distributor collects cardboard from participating hospitals at no extra cost. Also consider switching to smaller just-in-time or low-unit-of-measure orders that allow for a variety of supplies to be delivered together in one reusable tote ready for immediate use. This can vastly reduce cardboard usage.

Most vendors are able to identify green product alternatives and distributors have programs to help you choose such products and adopt greener processes. Ask your medical products supplier what they are doing to lessen their organization's environmental footprint. Through active dialogue, you may find that your efforts quickly catch on and become a permanent fixture at your organization.

Elizabeth Hilla is executive director of the HIDA Educational Foundation, an affiliate of the Health Industry Distributors Association. The Foundation is devoted to education and research that increases efficiency and effectiveness within the healthcare supply channel.  She also serves as a senior vice president at HIDA.

More Articles on Going Green:

Going Green: 5 Ways to Build a Sustainable Hospital
Pennsylvania Hospitals Save Money By Going Green
6 Ways an Operating Room Can Become More Environmentally Friendly

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