Hospitals and Health Networks reports that hospitals are making slow, but steady progress toward sustainability.  Although they are steadily gaining ground, hospitals appear to be inching rather than rocketing down the road to environmental sustainability. The reasons are varied, ranging from funding and staffing challenges to uncertainty by hospital leaders about how to wrap their arms around such a complicated, multilayered issue. Still, the vast majority of hospital leaders in a recent survey said that the green movement is truly important for the planet, patients, staff, the community and their own bottom line.

“Hospitals are dealing with many important issues and there are competing priorities,” says Dale Woodin, executive director of the American Society for Healthcare Engineering. “Environmental issues don’t always come out No. 1.”

Hospitals are making the biggest strides in less cost-intensive areas such as upgraded lighting, which was cited as the single greatest success in a sustainable operations project followed by replacing building automation systems in the 2013 Sustainable Operations Survey, conducted by H&HN‘s sister publication, Health Facilities Management, ASHE and the Association for the Healthcare Environment, both divisions of the American Hospital Association. Recycling of pharmaceutical/regulated medical waste as well as green cleaning continued to gain momentum in 2013.

The survey also was revealing in terms of what hospitals are not doing on a wide scale, such as tracking performance metrics. Only 38 percent include performance metrics — such as the Environmental Protection Agency Energy Star rating, total waste generation or a recycling rate — in their senior management dashboards and the percentage of those that track energy overall stayed fairly static from 2010 to 2013. Considering the close link between metrics and cost-cutting, experts say those numbers need to turn the other direction — quickly.

“Those numbers are shocking,” says Janet Brown, director of facility engagement at Practice Greenhealth. “Environmentalism aside, this is also a financial issue, and these metrics let cash-strapped hospitals know where they have opportunities to save money, where they don’t and where to prioritize.”

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