Daniel MartinRecently, Becker’s Hospital Review published a list of “50 of the Greenest Hospitals in America.” A particular phrase that  stood out to me was “lead by example”: 

The following 50 hospitals are among the greenest healthcare organizations in the country. They lead by example through mass-scale and local carbon-cutting efforts, and they also demonstrate how environmental sustainability is everyone's responsibility.

Having spent more than 10 years in the Marine Corps, I am no stranger to the concept of leadership by example. It is not only one of the Corps’ better known leadership principles, but also a great foundation for earning the trust and respect that leaders need if they expect for people to be willing to follow them.

When it comes to environmental sustainability in health care, there are many ways a hospital or health system can show its commitment and lead by example, as demonstrated by the 50 hospitals cited by Becker’s. But remember: It is all too easy for hospitals and health systems to simply make the claim and tout their “green” initiatives. To truly lead by example, such claims need to be backed up by informed action.

It could be through LEED or Energy Star certifications, or participating with an organization like Practice Greenhealth or the Healthier Hospital Initiative. A possible initial first step might be to perform internal benchmarking or an energy assessment. Or the necessary action might also be summed up as simply doing everything within your power to make your hospital or system more energy and cost efficient and sustainable. 

In the end, with a properly executed strategy, any hospital can absolutely become more efficient and sustainable, and possibly provide improved care as the organization comes to better understand the relationship between the hospital environment and patient outcomes. In the very least, having a “greener” environment could provide an important means to avoid hospital-acquired infections, and the risk of penalties that they pose.

A significant challenge exists, however, for programs that undergo a period of active development and then are allowed to remain static. To be effective, programs must be dynamic and evolve with changing industry standards. Would a hospital that was LEED Gold certified three years ago still qualify today based on its current practices? Are benchmarking or assessment data being used in strategic plans to address ongoing energy and sustainability conservation measures? 

Unfortunately, these questions often go unanswered once the marketing benefits from going green start to unfold. I take pride in seeing five of the 50 hospitals in Virginia and Maryland, just in my backyard, but I also recognize that these organizations need to have strategies in place to ensure the types of efforts that earned them a place of this list are ongoing and not merely a snapshot in time.

Do each of these hospitals, or others that showcase their green practices, have a chief sustainability officer, a sustainability coordinator, or a Green Team? Where do they stand regarding a greener operating room, continued waste reduction, procurement from sustainable manufacturers, or the continued measurement and verification of their energy and resource reduction efforts?

There is no doubt that many of these great hospitals and healthcare systems are truly leading by example and blazing new trails for others to follow. I see this list serving two purposes: 

To inspire those that are not leading the way to jump on board, because the need for hospitals and healthcare facilities to become more cost efficient and sustainable is not going away

To encourage those that currently have a strategy in place, whether or not they made the list, to make sure their momentum continues

Leadership is not static, and health care’s progress toward more sustainable hospitals needs to continually advance. As a former Marine mentor of mine used to say, “Never be satisfied!” I hope those that are currently leading the way share interest in this ethos sufficiently to spread the word among industry friends and colleagues. 

Dan Martin is director of healthcare at AtSite Inc., Washington, D.C., and a member of HFMA’s Virginia/DC Chapter.

Publication Date: Friday, October 04, 2013