Throwback: Operation organic
Throughout 2013 – in celebration of Sustainable Industries' 10-year anniversary – we're re-publishing some of our favorite historical feature articles as part of a series called "Throwback." We welcome your comments and observations on how sustainable business has blossomed, stayed stagnant or reversed course over the past decade we've been chronicling it.
Three manufacturing plants sit side by side in a black-and-white cartoon illustration. On the right is Acme Chemical Co. In the middle is Acme Cancer Cure Inc. And on the left is Acme Hospital Corp. Tall chimneys atop each plant billow black smoke toward a town on the horizon. In the foreground, hospital orderlies cart patients on stretchers from the town to the hospital, bypassing the chemical and cancer research factories along the way.
At once, the cartoon is black comedy and a political statement: An unhealthy health care industry equals unhealthy people. Experts on the effects of pollution on human health say it’s no laughing matter.
People exposed o toxic air pollutants at sufficient concentrations and durations may have an increased chance of getting cancer or experiencing other serious health effects, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. And it’s not only what you breathe. Mercury and other toxic air pollutants can deposit onto soils or waters, where they are taken up by plants and ingested by animals all the way up the food chain to humans.
Such stark realities are spurring the multibillion-dollar medical industry to pay increasing attention to improving human health inside and outside of the hospital. A growing number of health care providers are changing their food purchasing practices to support pesticide-free agricultural products that are grown close to home — sometimes even in hospital gardens.
At the same time, doctors, architects and environmental advocates are integrating innovative green building strategies into hospitals while eliminating the facilities’ medical waste and use of toxic chemicals. Such efforts are not only changing the environmental footprint of hospitals but broadening their role in communities as advocates of healthy living.
“The health care industry is looking at this in terms of prevention — how do you address issues before they become a problem?” says Mark Rossi, co-coordinator of CleanMed 2006, a conference scheduled this month in Seattle.
The three-day conference, sponsored by Kaiser Permanente, Catholic Health Initiatives and other health care providers and advocates, is devoted to making hospitals healthier places to work and treat patients. More than 500 medical equipment manufacturers, group purchasers, health care system administrators and other representatives from throughout the entire health care chain are expected to attend the conference, which features entrepreneur and author Paul Hawken and other speakers.