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Going Green: Three Ways to Drive Sustainability Via Supply Chain


Today, sustainability is a requirement for every organization around the globe, with the supply chain helping to drive stronger environmental performance.

As the consequences of current practices become clearer – climate change, plastic pollution, deforestation and more – a greater number of healthcare providers are acting and using sustainability to propel economic choices, eliminate waste and improve health outcomes.

According to Practice Greenhealth data, more than 300 U.S. hospitals together saved $68 million on sustainability initiatives in 2018, while:

  • Diverting 146,750 tons of waste from landfills.
  • Avoiding 182,370 metric tons of carbon emissions through mitigation projects.
  • Reducing energy consumption by more than 309 million KBTUs, or Kilo (1,000)-British Thermal Units.

Sustainability efforts also make a positive impact on a provider’s bottom line. With more than 90 percent of hospitals reporting higher energy costs over the previous year, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study shows that each dollar saved through energy stewardship is equivalent to up to $20 generated in new revenue for hospitals or $10 for physician practice offices.

COVID-19's Impact on Sustainability

A number of recent studies suggest a link between the severity of COVID-19 infections and local levels of air pollution – and the stress on supply chains for disposable materials has highlighted the risks of relying too heavily on single-use items.

Amid the pandemic, many health systems are renewing their commitment to more sustainable operations, finding the supply chain is central to these endeavors.

Here are three ways the supply chain can help enable more sustainable practices for health systems:

1. Give Sustainability a Voice

Sustainability is an issue of great importance to health systems, and suppliers are now enhancing their commitments to relay what’s in their product, how it’s packaged and other environmental attributes.

In 2018, 115 of the world’s largest organizations requested environmental information from more than 5,500 global suppliers. These suppliers reported emissions reductions of 633 million metric tons – more than South Korea’s emissions in 2017 – and a collective cost savings of more than $19 billion, showing that knowledge about environmental impact can lead organizations toward policies that drive positive change. A decade ago, only 14 suppliers participated in this same request.

Supply chain teams today are building and amplifying positive change by making sustainability a critical factor in supplier evaluation and engagement.

Alongside our members, Premier works with suppliers to ensure sustainability information is made available before purchasing decisions are made. Our requests for information (RFIs) include questions on environmentally preferable policies and practices, and are guided by our Environmentally Preferred Purchasing (EPP) Advisory Council.

Comprised of sustainability specialists from a cross-section of member health systems, EPP Advisory Council input is vital to ensuring that our efforts reflect their goals, and that supplier documentation is fit for purpose. The Council serves not only to advise on EPP matters for contracts, but also as a forum for members to discuss how best to drive sustainability in healthcare and solve common challenges. Recent discussions have focused on plastic elimination in the foodservice setting, composting and waste disposal, and contractual barriers to increased reuse and reprocessing.

2. Harness the Power of Data

Sustainability analytics look at resource-related indicators such as materials consumption as well as energy and water usage. And now, organizations are incorporating several other next-generation metrics that drive sustainability performance, including product-level carbon footprint and Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) as well as public material traceability.

Providers working with Premier, for example, can easily identify sustainable suppliers and products designed to reduce environmental impact, pinpoint gaps and opportunities, and benchmark against their goals. Premier technology contains EPP information for more than 85,000 products and nearly 400 suppliers ─ and we expect this number to grow significantly over the next year.

As a use case, Premier members are leveraging RFI information and supply chain data to support programs aimed at the reduction and elimination of certain anesthetic gases that have significant global warming potential such as desflurane. In accordance with guidelines from both Practice Greenhealth and the Healthcare Anchor Network (HAN), the data allows our members to track the percentage of their spend that contains the targeted chemical.

These data-driven insights make patterns evident and best practices real, helping providers achieve meaningful sustainability improvement and outcomes.

3. Provide Feedback to Suppliers

Don’t forget to let suppliers know that these products were purchased because of their reduced impact. Feedback from health systems helps reinforce to suppliers that the sustainable efforts and environmental improvements they undertake provide value and ROI to healthcare organizations and the market at large.

For example, many medical devices are offered as single-use items. While this may have its advantages, single-use devices can, like a single-use coffee pod, create more waste.

To combat this and based on provider input, suppliers have rolled out green programs for conversion to biodegradable products and pigment-free plastics ─ from surgical drapes to bowls, towels and trays. Premier also offers reprocessing under contract for many items so that they may be used again safely and with environmental stewardship in mind. Where reprocessing is not feasible, it may still be possible to divert waste from landfill by sending it to companies that recycle the valuable materials often contained within these items.

As another example, one Premier-contracted supplier offers a fluid cart with proprietary cleaners and a closed-system process that reduces OR red bag waste by up to 70 percent with its reusable reservoirs ─ eliminating the OR’s need for plastic containers.

Enabled by Premier’s data-driven approach, forward-thinking supply chain teams are driving continued green innovations in healthcare that are cutting costs over the long-term, reducing environmental impact and minimizing negative consequences to public health.

Representing 18 percent of the U.S. economy and 10 percent of the global economy, healthcare has the power to drive sustainability and transform health at patient, community and global levels.

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