Reaffirming Our Commitment to Environmental Responsibility
As a major Boston academic medical center, a purchaser of supplies and materials, a consumer of significant energy and a generator of waste, Massachusetts General Hospital has a responsibility to its patients and staff and to its local and global communities to care for its patients without harming its communities.
When it comes to sustainability, the health care industry faces particular challenges. Unlike most businesses, hospitals are open and operating 24/7, with significant power required to run medical equipment, air handling systems, sterilization processing units, refrigeration facilities, laboratories and complex technology around the clock. Health care also generates a range of waste products, including medical wastes—hazardous, toxic, infectious, radioactive materials and sharps—that require special types of treatment and disposal methods. Identifying and implementing ways to reduce a hospital’s carbon footprint, decrease the amount of waste sent to landfills and adopt environmentally responsible practices demands a collective and coordinated hospital-wide effort.
Healthier Hospital Initiative
Mass General, through Mass General Brigham, is a founding member of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative—a national consortium of health care organizations that launched in 2010 to provide guidance and encourage health care organizations to move toward sustainability by choosing meaningful goals, adopting best practices and measuring progress. The priorities of the consortium are to empower health care entities to conserve energy, reduce use of toxic chemicals and decrease waste.
Our Successes in Sustainability
Reduced our carbon footprint
In 2008, Mass General set a goal of reducing energy consumption 25% by 2020—an ambitious undertaking. Mass General reached that goal in just five years and has now achieved a 36% reduction. 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.
Mass General employees have generated and driven many sustainability initiatives to reduce total waste tonnage, increase recycling and reduce medical waste. In addition, the hospital is committed to buying products that can be recycled, and it works with vendors to set up programs in which companies take back used products and reduce packaging materials.
Switched to purchasing environmentally preferable products
Through a Mass General Brigham-led program, Mass General has been encouraging purchase of preferred products, including reusable items and reprocessed single-use devices. For example, Mass General generated substantial waste by discarding pulse oximetry probes, small clips that are placed on patients’ fingers to measure oxygen levels in the blood. By switching to reprocessed and refurbished probes, the hospital has saved significant costs while reducing waste—and staff have reported that the reprocessed probes have a similar or even lower failure rate than new probes.
Decreased the use of chemicals
Frequent exposure to cleaning products in the workplace has been shown to be a significant cause of work-related asthma, with the highest incidence seen among health care workers, particularly nurses and cleaning staff. To address this concern at Mass General, Environmental Services staff members researched products and determined which certified green products would be most effective for various kinds of cleaning needs and safer for staff, and they switched to these products where possible. Also, certain high-level disinfectants used in laboratories have been replaced with safer alternatives such as steam and automatic washers/disinfectors. In addition, by identifying alternative reagents for mercury in the laboratory, this toxic metal has been eliminated from Mass General.
Encouraged employees to opt for eco-friendly transportation
Nearly 80% of employees who work at the main Mass General campus take public transportation, walk or bike to the hospital. This percentage reflects an understanding by our workforce that parking is in short supply in this urban environment and that the limited on- and near-campus parking is best saved for patients and families. It also reflects a commitment by the institution to promote commuting solutions for staff members, such as subsidized rates for public transportation.
Creating sustainable and energy-efficient infrastructure
These ongoing efforts in sustainability, coupled with the experience gained in the journey to become more environmentally friendly, are informing the plans and designs for the hospital facility that will be implemented in the coming years. The new 12-story clinical building will provide the hospital with the space needed to care for its patients and enable it to accommodate future growth. It will also provide patients and families with a more comfortable, private and positive environment in which to receive exceptional care.
With this building, Mass General has an opportunity to get it right, to create a structure that is sustainable and energy efficient—one with verdant rooftop gardens, healing green space and a secure bike storage area. It also has an opportunity to build a facility that is resilient, able to function in the midst of disaster—natural or man-made—and withstand hurricane-force winds, flooding and other threats. The new facility will embody the commitments Mass General has made to protect the planet.
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.