Hospitals and the Environment

By Gehant, David P. | Frontiers of Health Services Management, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

Hospitals and the Environment


Gehant, David P., Frontiers of Health Services Management


SUMMARY *

Think globally and act locally! This should not be viewed as a worn-out cliché because it is the call to action that has propelled Boulder Community Hospital to the forefront of those exemplary hospitals in the United States that have successfully executed environmentally friendly initiatives. It is this notion that inspired the leadership and staff at the hospital to initiate and embrace changes in their approach to eliminating waste. These achievements, by all measures, are nothing short of amazing.

BACKGROUND

The city of Boulder is best known for being the hometown of the University of Colorado. It lies in Boulder Valley, nestled against the Rocky Mountains. Its citizens are well educated and, in general, outdoor enthusiasts. It's comprised of approximately 100,000 people, and the list of major employers includes IBM, Ball Aerospace, Celestial Seasonings, and the university.

Boulder Community Hospital (BCH) employs over 2,000 individuals and has a medical staff of over 350 physicians. It's a nonprofit corporation, governed by local residents. Since 1989, when it merged with a competing hospital, there has been significant growth in volume and the range of services provided. Having outgrown existing facilities, it built a satellite hospital on the eastern edge of the community in 2003. This satellite facility was the first hospital in the world to earn the prestigious Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification (LEED). The award was granted as a silver certification, which is the second level in LEED.

THE START

It began in 1989, bit by bit, with environmentally conscientious employees taking action in a small way. Not more than a handful of people were involved. But they could see the waste that was generated operating a hospital. Just as they were doing in their homes, they started to recycle paper and containers from the hospital. Their grassroots efforts were observed by co-workers, physicians, and management.

Questions were raised. What is the state of our environment? What about global warming, pollution, and conservation? Discussions were held in the hallways, the cafeteria, offices, and conference rooms. As a result, management decided to jump in with both feet and make it an organizational priority to act in an environmentally friendly manner whenever possible. It was the right thing to do, and it was an innovative approach that brought the goals of the organization and personal goals of employees into alignment.

A "green team" was soon appointed, consisting of interested employees willing to plan and act in concert with a volunteer environmental coordinator. This group formalized the recycling program and in the year 2000 collected over 150,000 pounds of recycled material. Not only employees, but physicians were becoming involved, applauding the efforts. Because of the synergy this created, a full-time employee was hired to publicly formalize the hospital's commitment to initiate and sustain environmentally friendly initiatives. Selecting a person to assume the duties of this position deserves careful consideration. He or she must be passionate about the environment. It is also important for this person to be a good communicator, have a personality that can build trust, is easily approachable, and possess the ability to work in the political environment that exists in hospitals.

Management set about to create guiding principles. These principles had been espoused by many of the employees working diligently in the environmental program. With their input, the statement was created and presented formally in a document to the board of directors. Getting its endorsement was important for organizational commitment and funding. A document entitled Statement of Principles of the Environment was approved. At that point, environmentally friendly initiatives were being identified from the top down, as well as from the bottom up. …

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