How Healthcare Organizations Can Define, Assess and Improve Their Sustainability Efforts
- April 21, 2022
As the global community marks another Earth Day to highlight the importance of our environment, it’s clear that the urgency to solve climate change, excessive waste, and other environmental concerns has never been greater.
This call to action rings particularly true in healthcare, even if it’s typically not the first industry people think of when talking about sustainability and environmental concerns. However, the healthcare industry contributes to ecological decline due to its production of large amounts of solid waste and greenhouse gasses. Approximately 931,203 staffed hospital beds create more than 5.9 million tons of waste annually in the United States alone.
Kermit the Frog famously said, “It’s not easy being green.” It’s also not easy being sustainable. And it can be hard to know how green or sustainable you are and how these terms are related. But as a healthcare provider, you probably want to be—and be known as—both.
Green is easily defined as environmentally friendly practices. What about sustainability? How does that fit? At NTT DATA, the answer involves looking at the big picture. We have proposed a 360-degree model that wraps sustainability within an interrelated and multi-layered framework, which includes social and corporate governance issues and practices that ensure workforce agility, business resilience, and health equity. It’s a new way of thinking about and measuring performance.
So how do you measure up? Like most organizations, you probably have ongoing environment, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. How are they doing? Have they yielded any results? If so, what kind? Maybe there are aspects of the broad definition sketched above that you would like to pursue more actively, like workforce agility, business resilience or health equity. If you have any results to date, study them. Knowing where you stand is always good to know before launching something new.
To get a quick idea of how your organization performs against our model, consider taking the 10-question self-assessment within the white paper. It’s a simple test that touches upon the following four aspects of our “sustainable-first” approach:
Resilience and equity
Sustainable healthcare is resilient. It overcomes setbacks and withstands strains. That includes finding ways to operate equitably in a fractured world along several health and social fault lines. The correct use of data can play a key role in overcoming obstacles and redressing inequities. An organization can also mature in these areas by recognizing the social determinants of health (SDoH) that weigh heavily upon medical outcomes.
Society and corporate governance already fall under the ESG umbrella. Sustainable healthcare increasingly touches these issues because of rising expectations for operations and outcomes from stakeholders: patients, clinicians, non-clinicians, communities, regulators, and investors. One way to assess “social governance” practices is by looking at them in terms of people, process, performance, and purpose.
Agility and lean practices
Sustainable healthcare is incompatible with rigid and top-heavy operations. Instead, it calls for agility and resourcefulness. An agile, lean, and expert workforce can identify breakthrough opportunities for enhanced clinical outcomes. AI tools can better allocate clinical staff to areas such as EDs that have highly variable demands. Related practices include project-based teams, data-driven allocation of funds, and value-stream mapping.
Carbon neutrality is an ambitious environment-first goal, driven in part by estimates that the healthcare industry generates nearly 5 percent of global CO2 emissions. Hospitals can minimize their contribution to global warming and reduce their responsibility for healthcare damages resulting from toxic pollutants in various ways. They can also adopt other practices, such as the adaptive reuse of resources. Green project granularity relates to engagement and ease of funding.
Sustainable healthcare is a wide-ranging effort. An organization’s collective conscientiousness and overall sustainability, which encompass factors not captured in standard accounting, also extends into the domains of society and corporate governance and matters of equity, workforce, and management.
To get a sense of where you stand on the sustainability spectrum, read our white paper for more details on how you can improve your sustainability efforts and help lead the way to a better tomorrow.