Sustainability Blog

Kaiser Permanente is an Oakland-based healthcare provider founded in 1945 with operations in eight states.  With 10.2 million health plan members and 186,497 employees, Kaiser Permanente experiences unique opportunities in attempting to address sustainability within their organization.  One such opportunity that large organizations may utilize for sustainability is leveraging relationships along their supply chain in the form of environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP). 

Kathy Gerwig is the Environmental Stewardship Officer for Kaiser Permanente.  In her book, Greening Health Care, she describes the changes made by Kaiser Permanente to design cost effective, healthy, and environmentally friendly solutions to challenges of the 21st century, covering topics such as climate change health implications, reducing waste in hospitals and green chemicals in addition to environmentally preferable purchasing.

Kathy outlines the pursuit of environmentally preferable purchasing in detail by describing the renegotiation of contracts with purchasing agencies.  Hospitals receive most of their supplies from firms known as group purchasing organizations or “GPOs”.  Kaiser Permanente tasked their GPO's with classifying the environmental impact of the products they sold.  The criteria for classification can be found on Practice Greenhealth’s website under Standardized Environmental Questions for Medical products, Version 1.0.  This request pushed GPO’s to provide environmentally responsible options for hospitals so that the hospitals could pursue environmentally preferable purchasing.  Kathy estimates Kaiser Permanente’s move towards EPP resulted in: “$63 million in annualized savings while reducing energy consumption by 87 million kilowatt hours, reducing/recycling/reusing 12,000 tons of waste, reducing water use by 118 million gallons, reducing fuel use by 457,000 gallons, and substantially reducing consumption of hazardous metals (like mercury) and toxic chemicals” (p. 178).     

Greening Health Care uses clear, specific examples to demonstrate how a hospital can “green” its daily operations.  In addition to the example of environmentally preferable purchasing, Greening Health Care cites resources that can be used by other organizations in their sustainability efforts such as Practice Greenhealth and the Global Reporting Initiative.  Industry specific case studies and books by industry leaders provide unique insight for those interested in creating sustainable change at work.  Greening Health Care is a great example in that Gerwig’s book describes sustainability in a healthcare system, but much of the content can be applied in other industrial settings as is the case with environmentally preferable purchasing at Kaiser Permanente.