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ISO 14001 Case study for hospitals: How to identify environmental aspects

A 2015 study in the United Kingdom by the National Health Service showed that on average £1994 ($2867) was spent per head on medical services and treatment. Given the numbers of hospitals in most of western society and the huge footfall through the doors to use medical services it is clear that the amount of goods and services purchased and resultant environmental impact will be potentially huge. In light of this potentially significant environmental impact, ISO 14001:2015 is virtually unused in the hospital sector, which admittedly has a range of other compliance standards to meet. Nonetheless, with environmental considerations and legislation very much at the forefront of national and local government thinking in the UK and US, it is surely only a matter of time before this standard becomes recognized as a benchmark for hospitals and the medical industry in general. So in anticipation of that, what potential environmental aspects and impacts can be found in the hospital and its supply chain, and how can they be mitigated?

Hospitals and environmental aspects

Recently I spoke with a friend who worked in a hospital and we discussed the waste, process improvements and purchasing processes, which were all areas she felt were very much open to improvement. When you consider the amount of purchasing that takes place for a 500 bed hospital, the amount of food, energy and consumables used, and the potential waste at the end of those processes, it quickly becomes obvious that such an establishment will have quite a serious environmental impact. So how can we identify these environmental aspects and what mitigation actions would we suggest for a hospital looking to improve its environmental impact perhaps with a view to future ISO 14001:2015 compliance and accreditation?

Let us examine some of the main elements which can be identified and improve environmental performance:

  • Supply chain management: There can be huge environmental savings if you can encourage your supply chain to adopt the same environmental values as your organization, firstly by communicating to your suppliers the environmental criteria which will be now included in the scoring procedure for anyone included on the organization’s approved supplier list. Again, an approved supplier list and strategic purchasing process is vital to a hospital to ensure that purchasing is efficient, environmentally sound and economies of scale are received. For more specific details on this topic see the article Driving your supply chain to ISO 14001:2015 Compliance.
  • Eliminating waste and reducing impact: This element has several strands. Hospitals use huge amounts of food, food containers and plastic drink containers, as well as medical supplies. Correct recycling of all of these individual categories of material is vitally important, given that at visiting times there can be upward of 2500 people inside a hospital with 500 beds, considering staff, patients, contractors and visitors. Every hospital needs a defined and accurate recycling process, and all staff and cleaning contractors need to be made aware of this process to be effective. Secondly, hospitals use huge amount of electricity and other utilities, and large amounts are consumed at times when activities are at a lower level. Short term, a policy of ensuring lighting, machinery and computers are switched off when not in use can be established, implemented and maintained. Long term, a policy of installing self-regulating lighting can be considered. Water use is also large within a hospital, and including guidelines on how to preserve water should also be included.
  • Consumption of electricity by staff: In the previous article How to identify environmental aspects in your office using ISO 14001 we looked at the everyday and sometimes unconsidered environmental aspects and potential improvements within most office. These aspects are relevant to staff areas and offices of most hospitals too.
  • Compliance to legislation: There are many pieces of legislation that hospitals can comply with both in preparation for ISO 14001:2015 and generally to improve environmental performance. Regulations over gases used in air conditioning, emissions from the site, provision of process for water run-off in event of emergency situations and fire incident and response can all reduce environmental impact and improve performance. For help on this topic please see the article Compliance requirements according to ISO 14001:2015 – what has changed?
  • Establish an environmental policy: It sounds obvious, but incorporating all the strategies above will provide hospital staff with guidelines, information over guidelines and a roadmap. Specific objectives can be added when the time is right, either immediately or later after some measurement and analysis has taken place. Find out how to write an environmental policy here.

Therefore we can see that a relatively simple environmental policy and several strategies can greatly reduce a hospital’s environmental impacts and quickly educate the staff in order to make improvements.

Improving hospital environmental performance – the knock on effect

The benefit of an ISO 14001:2015 driven project in a hospital is obvious; huge savings in purchased materials and services, reduction of waste of materials and water, environmental improvements in supply chain and behavior, and a much welcome reduction in cost to the taxpayer are excellent reasons for undertaking such a project. Such projects can also have an equally welcome knock on effect too – educate staff, patients and visitors to varying degrees through such a program and individual behaviors can change outside the work environment. If such a program improved all staff’s environmental performance on their return to their homes, the positive environmental impact would be huge. The hospital, taxpayer and the wider environment would all see tangible benefits, and that is positive all round.

This free webinar can also help you: ISO 14001: Identification and evaluation of environmental aspects.

Advisera John Nolan
John Nolan
John Nolan is a Fellow of the Institute of Leaders and Managers in the United Kingdom, and Prince 2 accredited with a background in Engineering and Electronics and Data Storage and Transfer. Having studied and qualified as both a Mechanical and Electronic Engineer, he has spent the last 15 years designing and delivering Quality Systems and projects across many sectors in the UK, including both national and local government.