Healing the sick – in a green way 
Open around the clock, using energy to power everything from lights to heart monitors and generating trash from one-time-use supplies, hospitals – while a critical component to society – can drain environmental resources.

A study from the University of Chicago published late last year, found the health care sector in the United States accounts for nearly a tenth of the country’s carbon dioxide emissions.

According to the study, health care in America, including activities such as hospital care, scientific research and the production and distribution of pharmaceutical drugs, was found to produce 8 percent of the country’s total carbon dioxide output despite accounting for 16 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.

Researchers attributed hospitals’ high-energy demands to their constant need for temperature control, ventilation and lighting.

Certainly it takes some forethought and planning for hospitals and health care organizations to strike just the right balance between being environmentally responsible and providing life-saving medical care. But there are ways hospitals can do both and many are starting to take steps in that direction.

More than 1,000 health care providers and systems have joined Practice Greenhealth, a group for organizations in the health care community that have made a commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly practices.

Health Care Without Harm is an international coalition of hospitals, health care systems, medical professionals and environmental health organizations working to implement ecologically sounds and healthy alternatives to health care practices.

The U.S. Green Building Council now offers a LEED for Healthcare Green Building Rating System focused on inpatient and outpatient care facilities, long-term care facilities as well as medical offices, assisted living centers and medical education and research centers.

The USGBC collaborated closely with the Green Guide for Healthcare, a sustainable design toolkit specifically for health care facilities.

Some of the ways health care office and centers can go green can enhance employee satisfaction and patient care. One example is selecting more environmentally friendly cleaning products – there are products that will disinfect and sanitize but without the use of chemicals (which can be problematic for sensitive patients).

Also, hospitals can incorporate green design and energy savings into their construction or remodeling projects. Making use of natural light and adding plants or a small atrium not only saves energy but offers a soothing environment for patients and visitors.

And certainly simple steps like recycling paper and cafeteria food selection (think: organic and local) can make a big difference.

As we’ve addressed on this blog several times, many of these green practices translate into business savings and with the cost of health care services steadily rising that seems like something everyone can support.

We’d love to hear from you – do you work for a health care facility that is going green? What steps is your company taking and how is it working?

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What's your paper policy? 
With the dawn of 2010, it would be easy to assume a majority of companies have instituted recycling policies – or at least set up recycling bins for office paper. Unfortunately, only about half of all office paper is actually recycled. That means a great deal of the 4 million tons of copy paper used each year ends up in landfills and dumps.

The Environmental Paper Network is taking steps to improve both recycling efforts as well as the manufacturing of recycled paper. The network is a diverse group of environmental organization joining forces to support environmentally sustainable policies and efforts within the pulp and paper industry. This latest initiative, called the RePaper Project, not only has a goal of increasing recycled paper, but also creating “social conditions that spur technological innovations and create sustainable job markets.”

The primary objectives of the RePaper Project , which includes on its steering committee the As You Sow Foundation, Conservatree, Green America, Green Press Initiative and the National Wildlife Federation, are to:
• Increase office paper recovery rate from 50% to 75% by 2015.
• Increase post-consumer recycled content in printing and writing papers from 6% to 15% by 2015, and 30% by 2020.
• Increase awareness of recycled content printing and writing papers.

Key to the effort will be educating businesses on how they can get involved, both in using more post-consumer recycled paper and in recycling much more of the paper they do use. And certainly part of this effort can be about teaching people to think before they print, so printing isn’t the norm but rather an occasional necessity.

And don’t forget the financial component (always appealing to your CFO).
• Print on both sides of the paper. There, you just cut your paper purchasing costs in half.
• Only print when necessary – make use of pdfs, e-mail, file share sites and e-faxing. There, you just cut the paper purchasing in half again.
• Reuse paper that looks bound for the trash. You can easily turn half sheets of paper into scratch pads to jotting down notes and phone numbers. There, you just saved more money because you didn’t by notepads or those “while you were out” message pads.

Additional resources:
• The RePaper Project Web site has a number of resources, including the “Office Paper Recovery Guide” targeting office managers.
• The California Integrated Waste Management Board also has a Web site filled with posters and stickers that promote reductions in paper use. (one of the posters is pictured)
• The Environmental Defense Fund’s “Action Guide to Greener Paper” is a few years old but still has many relevant tips and ideas for cutting paper use.

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Ring in the new green 
It’s interesting to think back to the dawn of this decade when talk of a “green office” had more to do with the paint color than a business’ eco-conscious. Now, it’s commonplace for companies to have recycling programs and encourage energy efficiency. Many even have physical buildings that are LEED certified or built in a sustainable manner.

As we look ahead to the coming year – and coming decade – it’s clear the environment will continue to play a large role in business decisions. Businesses are finding green pays. While certainly a responsible choice, environmentally friendly decisions often save businesses thousands – and sometimes millions – of dollars. Adding those kinds of numbers to the bottom line is tough for an owner or executive to ignore.

Even small changes like printing less or using both sides of the paper can help a company cut down on office supply costs. Giving employees the opportunity to telecommute can increase productivity and may even be a boost toward retaining employees – another cost savings by not having to hire and train new employees.

Beyond those kinds of internal savings, companies also find going green meets consumer demand. Customers expect companies to at least make some effort toward protecting the environment and often a company’s level of green can determine where consumers are shopping.

Green technology will continue to thrive in 2010. Just this year on this blog, I wrote about Sprint and Samsung’s eco-friendly cell phone as well as green computing and server options.

Just take a look at the Consumer Electronics Show coming up next month in Las Vegas. The major tech event of the year, it features a Sustainable Planet and Greener Gadget space for exhibitors to showcase sustainable products.

Finally, expect to see employees getting more involved in creating green workplaces. A majority of the green office initiatives start from the bottom up. Employees can have tremendous influence in creating a green office environment. Again, those small steps can add up, giving senior management proof that going green works for the environment – and the bottom line.

Let us know what you anticipate in 2010 – whether it’s green efforts in your own office or tech trends that you expect to make a surge this year.

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Washing your car with a glass of water 
High on the list of water-wasting activities is washing your vehicle. More than 800 million gallons of water are used to wash vehicles in the United States each day. Not to mention the runoff from the soap and cleaners that flows down the driveway and into the water stream. In areas like California where water is already in short supply, it’s tough to justify using gallons of water to wash your car.

But one businessman has found a way for consumers and businesses to keep their cars clean without the waste. In September, Pierrick Bouquet (pictured) opened Ecolo Green Car Wash using environmentally friendly products and only enough water to fill a single glass to wash vehicles.

Here’s how it works: Ecolo-Car is a water-based product that blends coconut soap and an organic polymer. Ecolo-Car is sprayed on a vehicle and the organic polymers dissolve, lifting the dirt from the surface. The residue is wiped off with a microfiber cloth, the surface is buffed and the car is clean. (Check out the company’s YouTube channel for video demonstrations.)

Based in Newport Beach, Calif., Bouquet primarily works with large businesses, going on site to those companies to wash employee or business vehicles. Bouquet says he plans to expand franchising opportunities next spring and also is trying to take his Ecolo products nationwide (currently you can purchase the products from the Web site). He’s also is looking into commercial car wash locations near supermarkets and shopping centers so people can leave their cars to be cleaned while shopping or running errands.

Originally from France, Bouquet got the idea for Ecolo Green Car Wash while vacationing there and hearing about the popularity of green car washes in Europe. He researched the market in California – which is in a drought condition – and decided the state was ready for his water-saving business.

The term “ecolo” is shorthand for "écologiste,” which in French means someone who lives a sustainable, eco-friendly lifestyle that has a minimum environmental impact.

A typical Ecolo car wash costs $17 to $20 for the two most popular services, but it’s done on site so it saves customers time. Plus, consumers know they aren’t wasting water. And some of those profits benefit the larger mission of water conservation. Ecolo Green Car Wash has partnered with Water Education Foundation, a nonprofit with the mission of helping resolve California’s water crisis by raising awareness.

We give a big Green Thumbs Up to Bouquet and Ecolo Green Car Wash for saving millions of gallons of water. We hope to see green car washes like this springing up around the country.

For the latest updates, follow Ecolo Green Car Wash on Twitter.

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Wrapped in green 
This week we kick off the holiday season with food, family and friends – and shopping. Well, from a retail standpoint, shopping started just before Halloween, but you get the point.

You may find yourself drawing a name for the office gift exchange or spearheading a toy drive or canned food collection to benefit local charities. All those are terrific endeavors, but there are also some ways to green your office celebrations and add a spirit of environmentalism.

• Thanks in part to this year’s recession we’ve been reminded that less is more. Forego the gift exchange and give employees an opportunity to volunteer at the local homeless shelter or food bank – preferably somewhere within walking distance or encourage carpooling. You can’t possibly need one more bobblehead for your desk or word-a-day calendar, so skip the gifts. You save on gas from shopping trips and generate less trash (gift wrap, packaging, etc.).

• Employees will inevitably do some shopping, but there's no reason it can't be green. Give employees a list of local vendors and those who support fair trade. Buying local not only supports your neighbors but reduces the amount of energy, gas and resources used to ship products.

• Instead of giving gifts, ask each employee to contribute $5 or $10. Donate the money to a local environmental organization or use the funds to green the office – replace light bulbs, purchase recycled paper or buy reusable coffee mugs so you can eliminate the use of paper or Styrofoam ones.

• With company budgets already spread thin, it may be tough for employers to give holiday bonuses or gifts. Instead consider giving employees a set number of free telecommuting days so they can work from home, which helps the environment and gives the employee a chance to work in their PJs.

• If your company is having a holiday party, give it a green theme. Send invitations via e-mail or with an evite. Work with eco-friendly vendors, such as caterers and rental space. Ask employees to carpool to the party.

Let’s hear your suggestions for greening your office during the holiday season. Post a comment and share!

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