Encourage health providers to help heal the planet

Encourage health providers to help heal the planet

by Angie Hicks, founder of Angie's List

The places we go to get and stay healthy have a responsibility to offer their patients the best care possible, and that includes reducing their environmental impact. Yet, hospitals have one of the largest carbon footprints in the U.S., generating several million tons of waste annually, using products with high volatile organic compounds, and are an endless energy drain with necessary 24-hour operation.

More consumers are looking to the health care sector to reduce its environmental impact significantly by switching toward renewable and more efficient energy sources. Fortunately, more hospitals are recycling items such as compression sleeves, pulse oximeters, laparoscopic ports and other devices that can be resterilized and reused.

Many are also building or renovating through green construction and getting the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification for meeting strict eco-friendly criteria set up by the U.S. Green Building Council. The rating system offers four certification levels for new construction: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

Highly rated Providence Newberg Medical Center in Oregon was the first hospital to earn a Gold certification when it opened its doors in 2006. To minimize airborne contamination, the center installed an air distribution system that uses 100 percent outside air, eliminating air recirculation in the hospital. To save on energy, they installed motion sensitive lighting that detects when people enter and leave a room. Developers also used local and recycled products whenever possible and recycled more than 75 percent of waste during construction. "We wanted to be a good steward of the environment and have a positive effect on the community," said Richard Beam, system director of construction and sustainability for Providence Health & Services.

The Shapiro Cardiovascular Center at Boston's highly rated Brigham and Women's Hospital obtained a Silver certification by using rubber flooring - a renewable resource - throughout and they use natural light in 75 percent of the building's interior, which reduces energy use and has proven to improve patient outcomes. Those enhancements, among others, are enticing prospective patients.

Even dentists are taking steps to be environmentally responsible. Dr. Steve Green, of the highly rated Team Green Dentistry in Fishers, Ind., offers patients organic, locally-grown fruits while they wait; his office uses recycled batteries, plastics and paper; and they've converted almost all paper charts to electronic records.

It only takes small steps for people to reduce their environmental impact, so encourage your provider to go green. If you've had an experience with an eco-friendly health and wellness provider, submit a report. We all might just be healthier for it.

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