Considering that healthcare facilities are among the top water consumers in any community, water conservation is a great way to reduce the environmental impact of a hospital while saving money at the same time [source: Energy Star]. For example, low-flow faucets in hospital sinks can reduce consumption by one gallon (3.8 liters) per person per day, while low-flow shower heads can save four times that much. One hospital in Portland, Ore. estimated they'd save $17,000 per year making just these two adjustments [source: Energy Star].
Waste management is another very important strategy for any hospital's greening process. After labor costs, it is the second largest expense for most healthcare facilities. Medical centers in the U.S. produce more than 5.9 million tons of solid waste annually, which amounts to about $10 billion annually in costs across the healthcare industry [sources: Practice Greenhealth and Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals]. It's estimated that 85 percent of hospital waste is non-regulated waste – the same kind of waste as any other large facility. Eliminating unnecessary purchases and properly sorting and recycling can go a long way to curbing waste.
Another area of concern is paper files. Making the switch to electronic medical records (EMRs) not only saves enormous amounts of paper, but has the added benefit of reducing labor hours and improving quality of care since EMRs reduce redundancies and allow for quick access to information across entire healthcare teams [source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services]. The U.S. government is currently offering financial incentives for healthcare providers who adopt EMRs [source: McGee].
The University of Virginia Health System (UVA Health) is one hospital that's made strides toward reducing its carbon footprint by using EMRs and adopting other Earth-friendly strategies such as non-toxic and reusable supplies in their cleaning systems.
"It helps that our environmental services department has input into the type of flooring, walls, etc. that are selected when we construct or renovate buildings," says UVA Health's Reba Camp, administrator for environment of care. "We've also swapped our annual plants for perennials and natives in our landscaping projects because they require less water."
While some hospitals take small steps to continually "green" their facilities, others choose to pursue one of the four U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) certification levels for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), which include Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum. In the next section, we look at a couple of LEED certified medical centers, including one that has achieved the highly coveted Platinum prize.