Sustainable Health Care: Opportunities for Green & Ethical Purchasing in Canadian Hospitals
In a recent discussion paper titled Greening Canadian Hospitals, Community Research Connections reported there are more than 3000 hospitals, medical facilities and surgery centers across Canada, making up a healthcare sector that contributes approximately 10% to the country’s gross domestic product (GDP). More than affecting individual health, these facilities impact the environmental, social and economic health of the communities where they operate as well as further afield through their product and service supply chains.
The Canadian health care sector is the second largest single-sector source of dioxin contamination in Canada. It also contributes 20% of all mercury emissions from incineration and 2.1% of Canada’s total greenhouse gas emissions. Recognizing the potential of both environmental and economic returns, there has been considerable attention to the greening of health care. A number of hospitals and health authorities have been identified as leaders in the field including those listed below (click on the links to view case studies outlining their achievements).
- University Health Network Toronto, Ontario (2008 Co-Winner of the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment Pollution Prevention Award for overall pollution prevention by an organization)
- Cape Breton District Health (case study, page 12) Cape Breton, Nova Scotia (51% reduction in landfill waste)
- North York General Hospital Toronto, Ontario (introduced a solvent recycling program in 2006)
- Arnprior & District Memorial Hospital, Arnprior, Ontario (8% reduction in natural gas for heating)
- St. Michael’s Hospital, Toronto, Ontario
- Women’s College Hospital, Toronto, Ontario (projected a 20% reduction in energy use)
- West Nipissing General Hospital, West Nipissing, Ontario ($50,000 per annum in energy savings)
Primary areas of focus for these groups include reducing energy and water consumption, improving waste diversion practices, and removing toxics. Less common among these facilities is the inclusion of a green purchasing policy. Illustrating this point, a recent review of 10 Ontario hospitals by Corporate Knight’s found only one had a sustainable procurement policy in place. Even less common in the Canadian health sector is the presence of ethical purchasing standards. For example, considering the working conditions where uniforms and surgical instruments are manufactured, or closer to home, supporting local businesses with sub-contract opportunities for cleaning and maintenance.
A comprehensive sustainable purchasing program is an effective way for hospitals to introduce environmental and ethical considerations to their operations. While there are a number of challenges specific to the sector there are many opportunities.
Reeve Consulting is currently working on a project with the Buy Smart Network to assess opportunities and challenges for Health Shared Services B.C., a division of the Provincial Health Services Authority responsible for supply chain logistics and procurement for health authorities in B.C. While our project is in it’s early stages, an initial review of best practices and opportunities has us optimistic about reducing the use of one-time disposable products as well as the high volumes of packaging used in the sector. We’ve also found positive examples to build off of in the realm of ethical purchasing practices, a field that is more developed in Europe (e.g. the British Medical Association’s Medical Fair & Ethical Trade Group). There are also great strides to be made in employee and supplier engagement as well as collaboration within the sector.
We look forward to updating our readers on our results both here on the blog and with related reports on our new website ‘Resources’ page (to be unveiled in coming weeks). Please check back for more information.