Recycling, sustainability spans the gamut of healthcare provider operations

Oct. 27, 2023

With recycling and sustainability becoming as much a business proposition as much as an environmental one among healthcare organizations, Healthcare Purchasing News (HPN) throughout the spring and summer months this year queried a variety of suppliers on how they might adapt to the environmental accountability and responsibility demands of their provider customers. Options include improving packaging, reducing carbon emissions and footprint, conserving and/or regenerating and reusing energy and eliminating certain kinds of waste through efficient project management and overall operations. HPN concentrated on shelving and storage, storerooms and warehousing, orthopedics and freight and shipping, including drone use. 

April 2023: On Shelving and Storage 

“I look at environment and sustainability in a different sense. When I think of the environment, I think of the people who work in the department. The space in which they work. The workflow. The safety hazards. The organization of supplies. When I think of sustainability I think of the employees. The patients. The protection of valuable inventory and equipment. Specialized storage equipment for each application has a profound impact on the hospital’s working environment and its sustainability.”

Ian Loper, vice president, DSI 

“Environmental consciousness and sustainability has undoubtedly moved to the forefront discussions when evaluating the companies we choose to develop relationships with, and rightfully so. At H+H SYSTEM Inc. we are mindful of these concerns every step of the way. First and foremost, the solutions we offer are made from durable materials that will withstand the test of time and use, offering a long useful life. Doing so provides our customers with a product that is not constantly pulling resources to support the replacement or repair of their equipment. To speak further about the materials we source, our customers are able to use basic, household agents to clean our MedTrays and FlexShelf lines of products. This eliminates the need for harsh chemicals that potentially pose a threat to health and the environment.”

Tim Ramcoobeer, sales development representative, H+H System Inc. 

“One positive side effect of high-density storage is a smaller carbon footprint. Between standard racks in a storage area, there is a lot of wasted space. There needs to be room between racks to be able to move the racks and search for items, not to mention the unused space between the top of the rack and the ceiling. Those areas need light and climate control, so staff are able to find what they need in a timely manner. An automated solution, such as the Hänel Rotomat Vertical Carousel, condenses all that unused space into an area that’s only used for storage. A Rotomat doesn’t need to be well-lit inside or constantly heated or cooled, and it only needs to draw electricity while it’s used. Automation helps decrease the amount of energy needed for your operations. As a result, you’ll reduce expenses and minimize your impact on the environment.”

David Phillips, marketing manager, Hänel Storage Systems 

“Modern, adaptable solutions allow spaces to change and improve with less waste. For example, qwikSLOT and EZ-ADD shelving enable users to create more sustainable storage decisions. Instead of shelving that would need to be replaced with room adjustments, these designs embrace the ever-changing environment of storage rooms eliminating waste. Metro shelving also offers options with extreme durability – multiple MetroMax shelving designs that are 100% corrosion-proof. Limit waste by purchasing shelving that is built to last and won't require regular replacement.”

Dave Salus, healthcare market manager, InterMetro Industries Corp. 

“One area we see receiving more attention in terms of sustainability considerations in non-acute care is with the cabinetry found in exam rooms. More customers are looking for cabinetry that not only is designed to withstand the rigors of the healthcare environment, but also strengthens their sustainability initiatives and programs. 

“Traditional wood cabinets are usually built-in and can sometimes experience moisture damage and deterioration issues. A modular, steel-on-steel design not only means greater durability and longevity of the cabinetry, it also provides the potential of repurposing the cabinetry during a new build or expansion. 

“For instance, our Midmark designers recently worked with a customer to repurpose their existing cabinetry in a new facility being built. Nearly $40,000 worth of existing cabinetry was moved to the new facility. This saved the customer from having to buy new cabinetry for the entire facility, delivering cost savings and sustainability benefits.”

Brian Hazelwood, marketing manager, Midmark 

“Quantum’s storage products are easily adaptable for change. The wire shelving products are uniquely designed to: add or remove shelves, change shelves to a higher or lower level, solid shelves and open wire shelves are interchangeable within the same unit. Quantum provides plastic bins in a multitude of colors and has a large line of wire baskets. 

“In many healthcare environments, the products being stored in a particular area often changes. By adding or removing wire shelves the storage space in between shelves can grow or shrink to accommodate different products. Shelves are easily removeable without the need for tools. 

“Rules and regulations often determine how you must use the space that is provided. For example, stored products must be 18 inches below a ceiling sprinkler, so upon inspection, it may be deemed that shelves must be lowered to meet this specification. Similarly, upon inspection it may be noted that the bottom shelves of a shelving unit must be solid and not open wire. In this case Quantum can provide a shelf mat to cover the open wire, or a solid shelf can be retrofitted into the unit to become compliant with regulations. 

“Quantum has provided millions of plastic bins into the healthcare arena. Some years ago, it came to our attention that in many areas plastic bins were no longer the preferred method of storage. Plastic, it was said, trapped dirt and dust and had to be washed continually to keep stored products clean. Upon knowing this, Quantum embarked on manufacturing a full line of wire basket systems. Many of the baskets were the exact same dimensions of the previously used plastic bins – simultaneously, Quantum embarked on an entirely new wire basket storage system to meet customer wants and needs.”

Ed Granger, director, Sales, Quantum Storage Systems 

“All finishes can be antimicrobial. By making buildings smaller and more efficient we are proving a green solution that keeps building smaller. Smaller buildings use less energy and the savings to a hospital at $700 per square foot for construction costs usually pays for a system like this in the square footage savings alone. The bonus is you can make the staff more efficient and eliminate stock outs, expired product and more with a full supply chain system solution.”

Craig Crock, president, Southwest Solutions Group Inc. 

May 2023: On Storeroom and Warehousing 

“Metro products are always built with sustainability in mind. Our collection of forever shelving designs is designed to limit the need to replace shelving throughout the lifetime of the facility. Our designers build better to keep broken and worn-down shelves out of landfills.”

Dave Salus, healthcare market manager, InterMetro Industries Corp. 

“Medline incorporates many techniques and technologies that aid our efforts to be sustainable and environmentally friendly. On a strategic level, we work with our customers to optimize their product purchasing, creating queues that signal when it is time to reorder and how much product to reorder. This reduces emotional ordering, which, in turn, allows our trucks to make less trips, use less gasoline and save our customers time and money. One example we use to conceptualize this better is that people don’t go to the store every time they need one egg; instead, they buy a carton of eggs, reducing the miles driven to and from the store to get the same amount of product. We do this in product purchasing by encouraging fewer fuller pallets of product. 

“We also use motion-sensing LED lighting, which has a low power draw and only illuminates areas when movement is detected. Additionally, we only use electric material handling equipment, not propane, and encourage our customers to reuse racking. Medline also has a recycling program for broken and damaged pallets to be repaired and reused, reducing the need for new pallets.”

Jaimin Patel, senior project manager, Engineering, Medline Industries 

“There is clear environmental value in sourcing with sustainability in mind, and in developing comprehensive recycling and donation policies, but we shouldn’t ignore the environmental value of operational efficiency. In 2017, UPS made headlines when they reported saving 10-million gallons of fuel each year by virtually eliminating left turns. This should be an inspiration that small operational adjustments can translate into significant savings at scale, impacting both bottom line performance and sustainability targets. 

“How much can a forklift’s usable life be prolonged when it isn’t subject to the wear and tear of picking high movers every day, but instead only for lower velocity items? How much spoilage can be avoided by proactively managing lots and expiries? How much waste can be prevented by picking only what’s needed for a case or physician? What is the CO2 impact of LTL deliveries versus shared milk runs? Workflow and process optimization is often evaluated through the lens of financial KPIs, but there is a compelling sustainability component to these improvements that are certainly worth considering as part of a broader strategy.”

Cory Turner, CMRP, senior director, Healthcare Strategy & Product Marketing, Tecsys Inc. 

Every facility operator is becoming more aware of their environmental impact, especially in the supply chain, as every touch of a product has an impact on our planet as well as operators. Even in the largest facilities, we are seeing a trend to use hydrogen fuel cells from companies like Plug Power to reduce the waste and maintenance associated with electrical fork truck batteries. In many cases they also see an operational improvement, as the refueling of the vehicle is safer and faster for your employees to perform while maintaining peak performance of the equipment through the entire ‘charge.’ In certain circumstances, the fleet of equipment is not large enough to justify hydrogen fuel cells, so electric equipment becomes the standard. 

“Another concern is around the metal shelves and racking that’s typically required in your warehouse or storeroom. Many people consider racking to be boring, but choosing the right shelves and rack systems is of critical importance to maximize density and sustainability. I have observed plenty of facilities that unfortunately chose rack or shelving with little flexibility, which causes the density of your storeroom to then suffer, as you may not be able to add levels or adjust the sizes of your locations without significant work. Another option that has seen a good deal of recent success is high density cardboard shelving, from companies like Pallite Group. Their solution provides inventory locations of high-density cardboard that supports hundreds of pounds of inventory yet weighs very little and can be shipped on a traditional pallet. 

Karen Niven, senior director, Operational Excellence and Clinical Value Analysis, Premier Inc. 

August 2023: On Freight and Shipping 

“Healthcare providers are continually exploring options to reduce their environmental impact and are assessing alternatives to reduce unnecessary shipping container waste. Additionally, as healthcare providers explore more opportunities to service patients closer to and/or in their home; last-mile delivery will significantly increase an organization’s carbon footprint. Creating a freight/shipping program that balances service level, cost and the corresponding carbon footprint will become top of mind for healthcare providers.”

Tom Redding, senior managing director, Healthcare Services, St. Onge Co. 

“By implementing analysis and optimization strategies, it is possible to minimize mileage and fuel consumption. Once the assessment and optimization processes are concluded, right-sizing the vehicle and mode of transportation can yield further cost savings while also reducing environmental impact. Incorporating rented vehicles or utilizing service providers (such as us) can provide the system with the necessary flexibility to adapt to ever-changing needs. This allows for seamless transitions from trucks to cars, electric vehicles, or even drones as required by evolving demands and as technology advancements become available.”

Mark Speight, COO, partner, Caduceus Medical Logistics 

“One way is to create strategies around full-truck loads – fewer deliveries would help with emissions. Additionally, consider supporting carriers that are using electric vehicles.”

Mike DeSimpelaere, vice president, Network Operations, Cardinal Health at-Home Solutions 

“In the solution we designed for our healthcare customer, we were able to put more inventory into a smaller warehouse footprint by implementing an [automated storage and retrieval system]. We optimized the transportation network that delivers supplies from the distribution center to the facilities, and we implemented reusable totes to transport those supplies. And our visibility and collaboration platform RyderShare enables all stakeholders to work together to easily see exceptions across the supply chain, which means they can work together to prevent costly delays and also find efficiency gains.”

Norman Brouillette, senior vice president, Supply Chain Solutions, Retail, Tech & Health, Ryder System 

“Utilizing inventory data to predict product needs, such as determining the PAR value, can reduce rush deliveries that are often less environmentally friendly. This approach not only minimizes the environmental impact associated with expedited shipping methods but also allows for the consolidation of products, reducing the number of individual shipments. By shipping more products together, healthcare providers can decrease the carbon emissions associated with transportation. 

“Health systems are increasingly seeking technological solutions to optimize the intra-network movement of products. By adopting advanced tracking and routing systems, healthcare providers gain more control over their assets and can plan efficient transportation routes. This optimization helps reduce unnecessary mileage and wasted fuel, thereby promoting sustainability in the shipping process. 

“Another important aspect is to procure goods and services from sustainable suppliers. Healthcare providers can prioritize partnering with suppliers who have implemented their own environmental, social, and governance (ESG) initiatives. This ensures that the products and materials used in healthcare operations are sourced from environmentally responsible and socially conscious suppliers. By supporting sustainable suppliers, healthcare providers contribute to the overall sustainability of the supply chain in terms of packaging, materials, and production processes. 

“By implementing these strategies, freight/shipping can adapt to the environmental, recycling, and sustainability demands of healthcare provider customers. These practices reduce carbon emissions, optimize product transportation, and encourage the adoption of sustainable practices throughout the supply chain.”

Derrek Seif, chief strategy and product officer, VPL 

“Working with known (qualified and vetted) carrier partners that comply with higher standards for sustainability and reducing environmental impacts. This enables manufacturers and providers alike to be assured that the carriers they work with support their sustainability policies, which can include low emission vehicles, fuel-efficient technologies, reduced idling times and more.”

Ron Devitt, founding partner, DeSpir 

“Many regions and healthcare organizations have introduced regulations or guidelines regarding sustainability in the healthcare sector. By implementing environmentally conscious freight/shipping practices, healthcare organizations can ensure compliance with these regulations and avoid potential penalties or reputational risks. 

“Emphasizing sustainability and environmentally friendly practices in perioperative care contributes to a safer and healthier environment for patients. By reducing waste, minimizing exposure to harmful materials, and supporting sustainable initiatives, healthcare organizations prioritize the well-being and safety of their patients throughout the perioperative journey.”

Cory Turner, CMRP, senior director, Healthcare Strategy & Product Marketing, Tecsys 

“Eighty percent of overall healthcare emissions are generated by the production and transportation of goods and services. Addressing this complex source of emissions requires a comprehensive and time-consuming effort. However, same-day logistics presents a readily accessible opportunity to reduce healthcare's carbon footprint. 

“The rapid expansion of healthcare ecosystems often causes additional routes and stops to be added without consideration of overlap or waste. To increase efficiency, the first place to start is by conducting an evaluation of the current logistics network. Analytics software monitored by experts can provide insight into the locations that have too much service or too little service, and areas of opportunity for optimization. Our team at MedSpeed has seen an average mileage reduction of 25% due to smart network design. By driving fewer miles, healthcare organizations can realize cost savings and significantly minimize their environmental impact. 

“In addition to network redesign, several other sustainability opportunities exist within the same-day logistics category. Building a digital ecosystem can reduce paper consumption through paperless invoicing, activity logging, reporting and route updates. Trained and employed drivers instead of contracted workers have been proven to lead to a higher quality rating which leads to fewer unnecessary miles driven to correct errors. Transitioning to electric vehicles is another effective measure to lower emissions. However, an in-depth analysis of available routes is crucial to determine cargo requirements and assess the mileage capabilities of each route, ensuring the suitability of electric vehicles for specific logistics demands.”

Jake Crampton, CEO, MedSpeed