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Moving beyond first cost
Many in the health care industry — indeed, in many other industries — worry about environmentally preferable products increasing the costs of operations. Environmentally preferable products may or may not cost more, but they do demand rethinking the criteria by which products are purchased in the first place. Procurement processes include the evaluation of many things, including safety, efficacy and cost. A robust EPP effort should seek to add several other factors to this process, such as the total cost of ownership, including impact and cost of exposure to chemicals of concern, cost of disposal, amount of energy and water used during a product’s use, and labor and other staff costs of maintaining and disposing something that may be hazardous to human health.
Evaluated on these more robust terms, environmentally preferable products can and often do have a reduced impact on human health and the environment, are cost neutral or save money while meeting key performance and efficiency measures.
Rigid endoscopes: reducing chemicals while maintaining safety
An example of using the total cost of ownership concept is Kaiser Permanente’s move from chemical cleaning of endoscopic cameras to sterilization with steam. Rigid endoscopes are used in minimally invasive surgeries and allow surgeons to see what they are doing without opening a patient up. Traditionally, they are cleaned with a hydrogen peroxide-based chemical deemed by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration as hazardous to workers and to aquatic life.
By working directly with suppliers and evaluating endoscopic camera heads based on the total cost of ownership, Kaiser was able to source endoscopic camera heads that could be steam cleaned. This one simple action reduced worker and environmental exposure to a chemical known to be a respiratory irritant and carcinogen, and it reduced costs by 31 percent.
Aligning purchasing with health care’s mission
Environmentally preferable purchasing has many benefits, but the largest may be the least tangible: aligning a hospital’s mission with the every day products used to promote the health of patients and their communities. As more health care organizations move to a “total health” focus for their patients and staff, the reduction of toxics, a decrease in waste and a greener supply chain will have a beneficial effect on the community at large. As awareness of the need to green health care’s supply chain grows, our hospitals and medical clinics will be places of true healing, for patients and the natural environment.
Beth Eckl is the Director of Practice Greenhealth’s Environmental Purchasing Program. She can be reached at email@example.com.