“First, do no harm,” the Hippocratic Oath says. In today’s environmentally complex world, that becomes more of a challenge because people and the planet may unintentionally be harmed by the very products and processes meant to heal. That’s why the move to environmentally preferred purchasing in health care makes sense.
“If you can heal your patients, protect your caregivers and conserve the environment for future generations, then it’s a triple win,” said Cristina Indiveri, senior director of program services at Vizient. “Our organization is capable and committed to supporting all efforts through the Vizient Environmentally Preferred Sourcing (EPS) program, our online contract catalog showcasing environmental attributes and our Environmental Advisory Council.”
In 2011, Vizient was among the first in the industry to begin collecting environmentally preferred attribute information from suppliers. Products identified as environmentally preferred are made without the use of some or all known toxic chemicals. These products, and in some cases the product packaging, make use of materials that support waste reduction and the elimination of toxins from the waste stream and environment.
In 2016, Vizient went one step further by contracting with MindClick, Inc., an international leader in sustainable supply chain performance measurements, continuous improvement and reporting. The partnership provides third-party review and validation of suppliers’ environmental product claims. Vizient solidified its environmental commitment in October 2017 when completion of submitted environmental attributes became an element of non-financial criteria in all Vizient contract awards.
Taking the first step
Where should organizations begin their environmentally preferred journey? Every provider is different, but recycling is a good first step.
“Organizations may decide to start with recycling because it’s highly visible. They should look for products and packaging that can be recycled or reprocessed,” Indiveri said. “Those particular attributes are noted in the Vizient catalog. A next step may then be to reduce specific chemicals of concern or sub-groups, like flame retardants in furniture. Our goal is to encourage and help members with environmentally preferred sourcing and to expedite change.”
From cleaning chemicals to disinfectants, heavy metals and plasticizers, the list of potential dangers is a long one for those in health care.
“Hospitals that are ready to expand their environmentally preferred purchasing efforts should make chemical reduction the goal. The best place to begin is to identify categories of products that come into direct contact with patients and caregivers,” Indiveri said. “Then, hospitals should look at the potentially harmful products in each category by reviewing the products’ chemical profiles. The Vizient contract catalog makes this easier by providing a one-stop location to do product research and to source environmentally preferred alternatives.”
The Vizient catalog distinguishes between two environmental designations: Environmentally Preferred and Environmentally Validated. The environmentally preferred products are highlighted with an EP icon, indicating that suppliers have provided Vizient with self-reported environmental attributes or information about their products. The EV icon, designating environmentally validated, signifies that MindClick has validated the accuracy of suppliers’ environmental information, based on the Vizient Standardized Environmental Attribute Questionnaire, which provides additional credibility.
Vizient represents approximately $100 billion in annual purchasing volume and currently has the largest portfolio of environmentally preferred products in the market. As of this writing, the Vizient catalog includes more than 300 contracts covering over 700,000 products containing environmentally preferred attributes.
One example of how hospitals have used the Vizient catalog relates to diethyl phthalate (DEHP). In recent years, significant effort has gone into removing DEHP from NICUs. Studies found that neonates in the NICU environment are often exposed to DEHP from medical bags, tubing, feeding products, catheters and other sources. DEHP leaches from plastic products, and its exposure has been linked to a variety of health issues including neurodevelopmental issues, altered reproductive development, cancer and others.
“Hospitals can access the Vizient catalog, search for certain attributes and look for safer and cleaner alternatives. The environmentally preferred and environmentally validated designations make finding specific products much faster and simpler,” Indiveri said.
Communication is key
Communication is critical to success and requires a multifaceted approach. It must include education, leadership buy-in and champions throughout the organization.
“People support what they create. Collaborating with engaged sustainability champions to educate and set examples is one strategy for a successful environmentally preferred purchasing implementation,” Indiveri said. “Regardless of how you structure your program, it is most effective when it is cross-disciplinary, with people working together to drive significant change.”
Indiveri also recommends keeping a “people, planet, profit” mentality as you move along the path of environmentally preferred purchasing. “While some are engaged with the people and planet aspects of environmentally preferred purchasing, others will be involved with fiscal aspects, as well. For example, nurses will want to safely heal their patients without inadvertently exposing them to harmful chemicals while preserving the environment for their grandchildren. To this equation, executives will also add a financial focus. The key is to implement initiatives that not only keep patients and caregivers safe and protect the environment but that also demonstrate cost savings.”