Sustainable business models generally outperform and achieve higher financial gains than their counterparts, but the transition is costly. In 2022, many hospitals and health systems have encountered financial and operational challenges ranging from swelling expenses, limited staff, and unprecedented volume against the backdrop of rising inflation and growth in input prices.
Operations and expenses are intrinsically interlinked, so finding ways to improve one will impact the other. Regarding sustainability initiatives, clean investments, and carbon reduction, a slew of companies and technologies in the market can help hospitals achieve these goals. However, all too commonly, these solutions negatively impact operations which drives costs up or vis versa. Finding the right technology for the proper operation at the right time is essential to reducing expenses and improving operational efficiency.
Sometimes disruption is necessary to evoke system change. There are ways to disrupt industry positively with technology while simultaneously benefiting the business by adopting these “disruptive” solutions.
For example, Blue-Zone Technologies’ anesthetic gas capture system provides that positive disruptive technology, working for your hospital on numerous fronts and seamlessly integrating into the operational flow. Waste anesthetic gases [WAG] are a critical issue within healthcare, with global warming potentials (GWP) far more significant than CO2, and they generally account for a large percentage of total emissions.
Capturing 100% of the emissions presented to the system, Blue-Zone will retain the WAG and transport it back to their storage facilities, where they extract the recovered anesthetic. This process is active for Sevoflurane currently in Canada’s healthcare system. Pending regulatory approvals in the U.S., hospitals that choose this service will be able to buy back new anesthetic gas at a significant discount, reducing costs associated with drug purchasing over time.
The savings from integrating this technology can go into other areas of your organization, ideally into patient care or employee benefits. The intangible savings from choosing an immediate emission reduction path will take a tad longer to realize. Still, they will comprise improvements in surrounding communities’ air quality, healthier populations, and fantastic PR.
Hospitals that begin immediately reducing carbon and carbon equivalent emissions stand to benefit financially instead of taking on long-term strategies that may or may not yield savory results and end up with a positive return on invested capital. A good case study of this is the Providence Health System which has been implementing emission-reducing measures for some time now, realizing savings in the millions of dollars.
Take, make, and dispose has been the mantra of businesses around the globe since the turn of the 20th century. Following the Industrial Revolution and World War II, humankind lived out a period of rapid economic growth. With this growth, the manifestation of a mindset began to emerge that put us on the path of linear economics.
We convince ourselves that the economic system can satisfy every need and that everything the market asks for can be produced by adjusting production to demand (according to a model that pursues infinite growth). This mentality penetrated the healthcare industry and has plagued healthcare purchasing ever since. Only now are we coming to grips with the pitfalls of this logic.
The global pandemic put these practices in the spotlight, and ever since, many institutions have positioned themselves to pursue circular economies within their given industry.
Healthcare should be at the forefront of adopting circular economies within different capacities of their organization. Last newsletter, we spoke of conducting product life cycle analysis as a great starting point on a small scale with individual items. However, it will take an intervention to achieve this due to the challenges associated with transitioning from linear to circular assets.
For example, contrary to a higher ROI associated with purchasing a higher-performing asset from a linear model (single-use disposable medical devices), circular-use models require a little more patience to realize a return on the initial investment.
Linear process products tax the environment of resources, and the value of materials and energy is lost during disposal. A circular economy minimizes resource input, waste, emission, and energy leakage by slowing and closing material and energy loops.
Circular mindsets and sustainability go hand-in-hand, reducing healthcare’s impact on the environment and providing a roadmap for other industries to follow.
A Broad Lens
So, you’re a sustainability director of a health system tasked with identifying, recommending, and integrating sustainable practices system-wide; where do you start?
The news, governments, and climate change advocates will constantly tout “carbon, carbon, carbon.” Yet, the issue of unsustainable business practices goes well beyond the carbon category. Putting the blinders on and driving down the narrow corridor of carbon reduction can inhibit your goals of achieving sustainable healthcare.
Sometimes holding the collective view can degrade an organization’s ability to advance, trend-set, and achieve similar goals in different ways. The collective view right now focuses solely on carbon emission reductions. A few additional categories to consider are resources, overconsumption, air pollutants, water, health, education, poverty, food insecurity, and inequality, among other factors.
From the societal level, this carbon-centric mindset has preceded to narrow even further with a heightened focus on cars and cows, ignoring other modalities that contribute to the overall climate crisis. We ignore rocket companies, deforestation, ocean liners, and incineration practices. Additionally, this tunnel vision can deliberately contribute to greenwashing and deflecting accountability to those contributing the most harm. Let’s not forget that BP oil coined the term “carbon footprint.”
Real change requires a hard look at reality, and the truth is that there is more to sustainability and improving overall health than reducing carbon. Take an in-depth look at the players holding the bullhorn and what goals are being set. Reducing carbon is a great pursuit. We know it has a negative atmospheric impact, but making it the sole focus of an eco-centric movement is illogical.
Let’s look at a parallel situation. Remember when the National Park Service encouraged and participated in the extermination of wolves in Yellowstone? Agriculture practices in the region eliminated many wolves’ prey base, inadvertently turning their predatory capacity towards domestic animals.
This behavioral change in the wolves was followed by decades of wolf extermination, “but this was an era before people, including many biologists, understood the ecosystem’s concepts and the interconnectedness of species. At the time, the wolves’ habit of killing prey species was considered “wanton destruction” of the animals. Between 1914 and 1926, at least 136 wolves were killed in the park; by the 1940s, wolf packs were rarely reported. By the mid-1900s, wolves had been almost entirely eliminated from the 48 states.”
Seventy years without an apex predator caused songbirds to leave, elk and coyotes to overpopulate, and beavers to disappear, which led to overgrazing and the decimation of land and trees. After years of a depleting ecosystem, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone, and nature began to balance out again.
The sustainability ecosystem is no different. A tunnel-visioned mindset will not provide the results we all want/need. Quite likely, it will compound specific issues outside of the blinders. These many variables are why choosing partners like us at Focus Healthcare Products to aid and abed your organization in setting and pursuing goals is so important. A broad-lense approach will help you measure your initiatives against the environment as a whole.
 Development of the linear economy. Eniscuola. (n.d.). Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.eniscuola.net/en/argomento/circular-economy/linear-and-circular-economy-comparing-two-models/development-of-the-linear-economy/
 MacNeill, A. J., Hopf, H., Khanuja, A., Alizamir, S., Bilec, M., Eckelman, M. J., Hernandez, L., McGain, F., Simonsen, K., Thiel, C., Young, S., Lagasse, R., & Sherman, J. D. (2020). Transforming the medical device industry: Road Map to a circular economy. Health Affairs, 39(12), 2088–2097. https://doi.org/10.1377/hlthaff.2020.01118
 U.S. Department of the Interior. (n.d.). Wolf restoration. National Parks Service. Retrieved October 3, 2022, from https://www.nps.gov/yell/learn/nature/wolf-restoration.htm