Does ZipCar have lessons for health care? Maybe so

Mar 12, 2008, 7:37 AM, Posted by Rosemary Gibson

A recent article in Business Week spotlights the “Designers Accord,” the centerpiece of a growing grassroots movement to integrate environmental principles and sustainability into the design process. Designers are talking with their clients about using alternative environmentally-friendly materials and thinking of ways to use design to foster more environmentally-friendly behaviors. ZipCar is mentioned as an example. Its goal is to encourage not only the use of greener cars, but to change drivers’ behavior and to promote the sharing of scarce resources.

How does something like the “Designers Accord” translate to the health care sector? Can hospitals and health care systems incorporate environmentally-friendly practices that are sustainable, make good business sense, and improve the health of patients and health care workers?

The Pioneer team recently awarded a grant to Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international coalition that is doing just that - working to make the health care sector environmentally sustainable in ways that improve peoples’ health. They want to transform the design, construction and operations of health care facilities to minimize their impact on the environment and foster healthy, healing settings for care.

To date, HCHW has been successful in helping eliminate mercury-based medical equipment in the US and promoting safer waste management practices around the world. HCWH aims to tap the purchasing power of the health care system as a lever to create policies and move market supply and demand toward sustainable food production, waste reduction, and safer products, materials and chemicals for use in the health care setting.

The Pioneer grant to HCWH will support a collaborative of 25 hospitals and health care systems that will research and adopt environmentally sound practices that promote the health and safety of patients and workers. The collaborative will consider opportunities where policy or code changes might have widespread impact and their findings will be shared through a series of best practices and case studies. Pioneer is particularly interested in the benefits to human health. Hospitals on the forefront of this issue have taken measures to install green flooring systems that have resulted in fewer falls and accidents among patients and staff, and other hospitals are exploring new options in ventilation systems that use energy more efficiently and might prevent the spread of infectious diseases.

Just as the “Designers Accord” fosters a bottom-up approach, there is an emerging network of hospitals and health systems around the country that are already thinking about the question of sustainability. And as demand for sustainable practices and products increases, the work of these hospitals and the work of HCWH will lead the field.

Keep watching the blog for further updates about Health Care Without Harm and the work of the design collaborative.

This commentary originally appeared on the RWJF Pioneering Ideas blog.