Through the work of the Center for the Environment and Health, Massachusetts General Hospital aims to ensure that all institutional decisions and actions account for environmental sustainability.
Areas of focus for the center relate to the health and welfare of the community, the mission to expand medical knowledge through research and a commitment to educate staff, trainees, patients and the community about the links between the environment and health.
The following are the specific and prioritized initiatives within the center under the guidance of our pillars.
Pillar One: Deliver Health Care in an Environmentally Better Way & Serve As a Model for Others
Quantify Mass General’s environmental footprint
Greenhouse gases and other pollutants harm the health of the global community. By assessing Mass General’s contribution to pollution, the center aims to quantify and report Mass General’s environmental footprint in order to:
- Identify better practices to minimize environmental impact
- Enable the institution to be a good steward of resources
- Direct mitigation efforts to the areas that will yield the greatest impact
Assessment will include multiple impact categories such as climate change, ecotoxicity, human health and waterway eutrophication (nutrient enrichment).
Align policies to include environmental stewardship
Policy has a profound effect on environmental performance. The center works to review existing policies and identify any voids to ensure that environmental considerations are used alongside clinical and financial factors when choosing products, vendors and construction plans. The hospital is committed to reducing waste, and it works with vendors to set up programs in which companies take back used products and reduce packaging materials.
Use comprehensive tools to assess and compare options
In order to choose the more environmentally sustainable product or process, comparing multiple options to gauge the environmental, financial and clinical impacts is the first step. This includes assessing the relative benefits of single-use devices and plastic packaging compared to the environmental and human health impacts of them. The center uses established tools and methodologies, such as Life Cycle Assessment and Life Cycle Costing, to quantify such comparisons. These approaches provide holistic data on both the impact during the time of use in the institution and the impact from creation of the product to its ultimate disposal.
Achieve carbon neutrality in Scope 1 and 2 greenhouse gas emissions
Across the U.S., Scopes 1 and 2 represent 36% of all greenhouse gas emissions from health care services. Examples of both include:
- Scope 1: Direct emissions from burning fuels, refrigerants and anesthetic gases
- Scope 2: Indirect emissions from purchasing energy, such as electricity
Mass General has made great strides in reducing its Scope 2 emissions by purchasing renewable electricity and waste steam for heat. In 2013, Mass General achieved a 36% reduction in energy consumption. Efforts have ranged from major investments in cogeneration, installation of a 40-kW solar array on the roof of the Charlestown Navy Yard parking garage and purchasing significant energy produced by a wind farm in New Hampshire.
Through further energy efficiency measures, equipment transitions, clinical adjustments and responsible, verifiable carbon offsets, the center aims to help Mass General reach carbon neutrality by 2021.
Protect our patients and staff by minimizing chemical use on campus
Chemicals are used in many products and processes in health care services. They serve many important purposes, such as protecting patients through cleaning and treating with pharmaceuticals. However, chemicals are not without risks. The center routinely reviews Mass General’s cleaning products, materials and furnishings and works closely with vendors to select non-hazardous alternatives as much as possible.
Serve healthy food
Antimicrobial resistance is making it harder to treat infections and antibiotics in food contribute to it. The center advocates for the elimination of unnecessary antibiotics in the hospital’s meat supply and is committed to reducing the hospital’s greenhouse gas emissions and environmental footprint by focusing on a plant-centered diet.
The Mass General kitchen is the busiest in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, serving 30,000 meals daily. Therefore, a priority of the center is working to minimize its food and food-related waste (e.g., utensils, containers and packaging) and maximize composting practices.
Minimize our waste generation and contamination
Health care waste treatment is more intensive and expensive than general waste, with infectious or biohazardous wastes—or red-bag waste—requiring sterilization before disposal. The center is working to reduce Mass General’s rate of red-bag waste contamination to less than 10%, as well as reprocess and reuse single-use items as much as possible.
The center also provides opportunities for staff to engage in various initiatives to reduce waste generation, and works with Mass General vendors to select reusable, rather than disposable, packaging.
Pillar Two: Create New Knowledge on the Inextricable Links Between the Environment and Health
Create research endeavors to understand health care’s impact on the environment and vice-versa
In order to continue learning about how health care services contribute to pollution and other environmental concerns, the center works with researchers across all specialties at Mass General to incorporate an environmental focus into research endeavors. It draws on the breadth of excellence at Mass General to advance sustainability in health care across the world.
The center encourages researchers to use facilities as incubator labs where they can develop and test new techniques and materials to reduce Mass General’s environmental footprint. The center serves to connect those interested in environmental-impact research at all levels of hospital-based, community or global health with appropriate collaborators, potential resources and routes for dissemination and publication of new data and approaches.
Pillar Three: Educate the Community on How to Live & Work Sustainably
Educate employees on the links between environmental pollution and human health
The connections between pollution (including climate change) and health are clear and scientifically proven. The center strives to limit community exposure through the development of educational materials for all Mass General employees, so that all understand the importance of these actions and feel empowered to identify, support and champion additional ways to improve institutional practices.
Pillar Four: Advocate for a Healthy Environment
Empower staff to advocate for a clean environment
Health care consistently ranks as one of the most trusted professions in the United States. Professionals in this field have a responsibility to use this position to advocate for public policies that improve the health of the community. In 2010, Mass General launched the Raising Environmental Awareness League to focus on sustainability efforts across the hospital. Many of these initiatives have been employee-generated ideas and employee-driven efforts to reduce total waste tonnage, increase recycling and reduce medical waste.
The Mass General staff can be impactful advocates, and the Center for the Environment and Health is committed to empowering all staff to assume this role. The center also leverages Mass General’s influence to support environmental stewardship individually—through Mass General Brigham and with trusted community partners, such as the Environmental League of Massachusetts.
Provide trusted experts to government and media
Members of the Center for the Environment and Health are experts in the important links between the environment and human health as well as how to address the climate crisis and environmental pollution. As trusted advisors, we are able to share our expertise with political leaders, regulators and media sources so that public decisions can be made with the best science behind it.
Other Areas of Focus
Nearly 80% of employees who work at the main Mass General campus take public transportation, walk or bike to the hospital. Regardless, transportation amongst both staff and patients represents a large source of environmental pollution related to hospital operations. The center aims to ensure that all future development plans addresses multi-modal transportation and is coordinated with the City of Boston and Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Plastic is the largest component of health care waste, and its ability to be productively recycled is severely limited. While initiatives to reprocess materials can be very beneficial, reductions and changes in practices ahead of production are much more beneficial. In the meantime, to reduce the environmental impact of that waste, the center works to support efforts that ensure recycling is maximally implemented at Mass General.
100% of Mass General’s electricity is derived from renewable sources. Therefore, in order to further improve the hospital’s environmental footprint, changes in its electrical loads aim to impact its resiliency and need for grid-free stand-alone generating capacity. To do this, the center is working to address plug loads and other electrical efficiencies in order to generate environmental benefits.
The Center for the Environment and Health works with leadership at Mass General to integrate environmental sustainability into the clinical, research and educational activities of the hospital.