Wisconsin Hospital Saves Green by Going Green

Ben Cole, for HealthLeaders Media , October 5, 2009

The annual cost for the continuing the storm water management project is approximately $3,500, but Vercauteren says it is worth it for the benefit to the environment, and because it is in step with St. Mary's commitment to have "reverence for the earth."

And these kinds of green initiatives are catching on at healthcare organizations across the country. HealthLeaders Media reported earlier this year on WI-based Gundersen Lutheran health system, which is vowing to reduce its net carbon emissions footprint to zero by 2014.

As part of the system's efforts, Gundersen Lutheran performed an energy audit on their facilities and retro-commissioned their health system to reduce excess use of fans, pumps, and electric motors, and installed a more-efficient cooling system, all of which cost $2 million. However, the health system is already saving $1 million a year in energy costs with the improvements.

A 2009 survey by Practice Greenhealth, the nonprofit networking organization with more than 700 member hospitals, found that:

  • 93% of its responding members are implementing energy conservation and efficiency measures
  • 80% are attempting to reduce the use of hazardous chemicals and materials
  • 64% implemented waste reduction programs
  • 58% created medical waste reduction programs
  • 47% started green purchasing programs
  • 31% implemented water reduction programs
  • 12% generated energy onsite

Vercauteren contends that green projects are a great way to show patients and the general public that healthcare organizations are working to maintain the health of not only patients, but the environment as well.

While St. Mary's green initiatives do sometimes receive some pushback surrounding the upfront costs, Vercauteren says the long term benefits to the organizations bottom line—and the environment—make the projects well worth the investment.

"But we believe for our cancer patients it is the right thing to do and I'm proud of an organization that's willing to bring to a community something that is really innovative and say ‘hey, we're really going to hang our hat on this' and we are going to show you this is a good thing," Vercauteren says.

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Ben Cole is an associate online editor with HealthLeaders Media. He can be reached at bcole@healthleadersmedia.com.

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