Healthcare Leaders Convene at White House to Focus on Sustainability

Healthcare Leaders Convene at White House to Focus on Sustainability

Last week, top Obama administration officials joined representatives from leading health systems at a White House event to discuss advances in sustainability across the health care sector.

The event's attendees represented organizations and companies that are blazing a path to sustainability in the healthcare sector - a sector that has been criticized for its lack of effort on the sustainability front in the past.

For example, a 2010 survey conducted by the Corporate Realty, Design & Management Institute found that the majority of healthcare professionals believe hospitals are in dire need of sustainability managers. The survey also found that hospitals were neglecting energy and water efficiency programs, lagging behind other industries where sustainability was becoming a core competency of facility professionals.

Moreover, an overwhelming majority - 94% - of the healthcare professionals surveyed said that green washing in the healthcare sector was worse than ever.

Last week's White House event was hosted by the White House Council on Environmental Quality to highlight the work of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative (HHI), an organization that is pushing for meaningful improvement in the sustainability of the healthcare sector. HHI is a coalition of major health systems and organizations committed to increasing energy efficiency, producing less waste, using safer chemicals, purchasing environmentally preferable products, and serving healthier food at hospitals and health care facilities across the country.

HHI also seeks to engage the healthcare sector's leadership on sustainability. HHI has enlisted over 600 hospitals to date, including those of Kaiser Permanente, one of America's leading health care providers and nonprofit health plans. "Kaiser Permanente is honored to join this important gathering of health and environmental leaders," said Kathy Gerwig, Kaiser Permanente's vice president for Employee Safety, Health and Wellness and environmental stewardship officer.

Under Gerwig's leadership, Kaiser Permanente has become widely recognized as an environmental leader in the health care sector. "As health care providers, we believe we have an obligation to our patients, staff and communities to improve health by using less energy, creating less waste, choosing safer chemicals and serving healthier sustainable food," said Gerwig.

HHI also counts Johnson & Johnson, the world's largest healthcare company by market capitalization, among its members. Attending the White House event was Al Ianuzzi, Johnson & Johnson's Senior Director of Product Stewardship.

Iannuzzi is the author of the recent book Green Products: The Making and Marketing of Sustainable Brands. He heads up Johnson & Johnson's EARTHWARDSTM greener product design process. He also leads the "Healthy Future 2015," the company's five-year strategy for achieving sustainability objectives.

"We have created a roadmap for hospitals to embed sustainability into their core business model and are providing technical assistance to offer every hospital in America the chance to participate for free," wrote HHI Founder Gary Cohen in a blog post. "This Initiative is about accelerating the adoption of sustainable practices across the spectrum of American healthcare...and also building a global learning community so hospitals around the world can learn from each other as they travel on the path toward healthier people, healthier communities and a healthier planet."

HHI aims to recruit 2,000 hospitals across the country. Those interested in joining can enroll at

Harry Stevens is a Media Consultant for 3BL Media / Justmeans. After earning his Bachelors of Arts in international relations from the University of Puget Sound, Harry moved to Guatemala to do business development for Mercado Global, a fair trade fashion organization. Harry has written on social enterprise, sustainable finance, and fair trade for a number of popular blogs, including Justmeans and The Fair Trade Times. A serial road-tripper, Harry has been to forty-seven of the forty-eight contiguous states, and is actively seeking an excuse to visit Oklahoma. You can follow Harry on Twitter: @Harry_Stevens