Remember when you were a kid and it was Mother's Day and you asked your mom when “Kids' Day” was? And you were informed (very annoyingly) that every day was kids' day? I certainly didn't agree with the sentiment at the time! I wanted my own day!

Well, the same could be said for Earth Day. We may designate April 22, 2010, as the designated day for all things green, but earth day should be every day and while hospitals are working every single day to improve upon their sustainability and quality efforts, Earth Day is a perfect opportunity to educate, host community events, and give back to the planet. When you think about the amazing Earth Day events planned at hospitals across the country, think about their combined impact. Individual facility activity cumulatively represents a sector committed to positive environmental change. In that spirit, we have put together a Web page to better share the individual and cumulative impact of hospitals, clinics and private practices, their business partners, and their Earth Day Events. Check it out at http://www.noharm.org/earthday.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Earth Day. Hospitals can be very proud of their accomplishments to improve environmental impact and reduce the health effects from pollution generated by the healthcare sector. Just about 15 years ago, healthcare was one of the primary sources of dioxin in our atmosphere-a poison that is generated by the incineration of plastics and chemicals. Hospitals have now almost completely shut down hospital-based incineration programs and have been engaged in ways to reduce their medical waste-through better characterization and separation and more judicious use of medical supplies.

Only a few years ago, mercury thermometers were widely used in hospitals. Mercury is a highly dangerous neurotoxin that is responsible for the contamination of thousands of lakes and streams in the United States. However, through the combined work of hospital purchasing representatives, group purchasing organizations, and manufacturers, mercury is no longer found in hospital thermometers and is virtually eliminated from home thermometers as well. A world-wide effort is now underway to eliminate mercury from the health systems of other countries such as the Philippines and Nepal.

Now hospitals are expanding their efforts to other areas. The healthcare sector is in the midst of the largest construction boom since the close of WWII. Much of this construction is following LEED or Green Guide for Health Care guidelines on making hospitals more sustainable, and using materials that are nontoxic to patients and staff. Hospitals are engaged in efforts to reduce their energy use, and more than ever before, are starting to purchase clean energy as part of their overall energy portfolios. Hospital purchasing staff is working toward finding cleaners, disinfectants, supplies, and equipment made without toxic chemicals. Other staff is reducing water use, managing waste, and preparing fresh, nutritious foods produced in ways that do not harm the environment.

The path hospitals take to sustainability has many beginnings-from recycling paper to appointing a vice-president of sustainability to implement programs facility or system-wide. All have the same results: making the practice of medicine healthier for patients, staff, and the environment. By putting in place practices and policies meant to sustain the earth and its inhabitants, the healthcare sector is well on its journey to celebrating Earth Day every day.

Earth Day events in healthcare

Bronson Methodist Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan, made their commitment to sustainability over 10 years ago, when building their replacement hospital. Bronson embraced sustainable design principles, a connection to nature, and natural daylighting. When the replacement facility opened and administrators realized a 41% increase in customer base, the building slated for donation was renovated to manage their growth. The clear win-win, sustainable strategies, was expanded upon for the new campus. Activities included rubber flooring throughout, low-VOC adhesives, petroleum-free carpeting, and clinician engagement. Winning the Malcolm Baldrige Quality Award, in 2005, designation as a magnet hospital for nursing excellence in 2009, and continuous honors through Practice Greenhealth's Environmental Excellence Awards every single year, demonstrates Bronson's commitment to sustainability and quality care. Bronson won Practice Greenhealth's highest honor, the Environmental Leadership Award in 2003 and has sustained that level of excellence, thereafter.

Bronson staffers' feedback regarding sustainability efforts included their desire to learn more about what individual departments were doing to improve their environmental footprint. So for Earth Day last year (and to be repeated this year), Bronson Departments were asked to create and present Departmental Sustainability Posters to share with their coworkers. Individual departmental staff is on hand to man the posters and present on the specifics of their departmental activity. This event was coordinated with Bronson's Winter Farmer's Market, which is offered when the local farmer's market is not available, through the use of greenhouses. In 2009 Bronson collected 700 pairs of shoes through the city of Lansing, Michigan, for recycling and will repeat this collection event again this year.

By putting in place practices and policies meant to sustain the earth and its inhabitants, the healthcare sector is well on its journey to celebrating Earth Day every day.

Baptist Health South Florida is the largest faith-based, nonprofit healthcare organization in the region and is #32 on Fortune Magazine's list of best places to work in America. Services extend throughout Miami-Dade and Monroe Counties with Baptist, Baptist Children's, South Miami, Homestead, Mariners and Doctors Hospitals, and Baptist Cardiac & Vascular Institute.

Earth Day activities at Baptist are an extension of Baptist's culture of environmental excellence and the perfect venue to showcase their successes. This year's Earth Day Event includes the dissemination of 13,500 compact fluorescent lamps (one per employee) to educate about energy conservation strategies for both home and work. Last year each staffer was given a reusable shopping bag, hand-in-hand with the discontinued use of disposable bags at facility dining services.

Vendors are invited on-site to educate about their offerings to staffers in the auditorium at each site, for all shifts. Vendor offerings include new areas of focus. For example, this year, Baptist is moving away from disposable Styrofoam cups to those that contain recycled content and are made of paper. The new vendor will be on hand to explain the benefits and the transition to the new material. Earth Day is an opportunity to kick off new initiatives and educate staffers about existing programs, as well.

The Recycled Art Contest challenges staffers to create art from healthcare materials and wastes. Prizes are given in a variety of categories. Earth Day Events at Baptist Health consistently receive both print and television coverage. Eric F. Wenke, AVP Corporate Development at Baptist Health explains, “Earth Day events serve to reinforce and educate employees and help promote a green cultural shift throughout the organization. For example, through our Recycled Art Contest, parties learn about the importance of recycling and how to incorporate sustainability principles into their daily schedule.” HD

Learn more about Earth Day Activities at http://www.noharm.org/Earthday. Janet Brown is Director, Facility Engagement, Practice Greenhealth. Eileen Secrest is Director, Communications, Health Care Without Harm.

Healthcare Design 2010 April;10(4):18-21