From the Executive Director

The Association for the Healthcare Environment (AHE), formerly the American Society for Healthcare Environmental Services (ASHES), was an early adopter of the principles of environmental sustainability. In 1998 ASHES was instrumental in the development and execution of the original Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the American Hospital Association (AHA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that launched the Hospitals for a Healthy Environment (H2E) program. H2E's primary goals were to help hospitals eliminate mercury and other "priority pollutants" from health care environments and to address management and minimization of the amount and toxicity of waste generated everyday in health care facilities.

AHE was at the forefront in helping the H2E program achieve its goals, and all these years later we're still working hard to reduce waste and build the business case for sustainable operations. Waste management is certainly a cornerstone of sustainability programs, but AHE members know sustainability is about so much more. There is a long list of potential projects and lots of chatter around green efforts, so it's no wonder we found ourselves asking, "What the heck does green mean, what shade of green am I, and where do I start?"

Answering these questions definitively just got easier. The Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals is a joint effort of AHE, the American Society for Healthcare Engineering (ASHE), and the Association for Healthcare Resource & Materials Management (AHRMM) to create a comprehensive set of tools that collectively will enable the nation's hospitals to become the most sustainable health care facilities in the world. The Sustainability Roadmap is designed to guide you on this journey. The AHE portion is filled with tools and resources for setting up a basic recycling program, implementing more intermediate programs like composting, and launching advanced programs to achieve the highest level of recycling and reduction. The Roadmap is designed to provide living, breathing tools and resources that are continuously updated by the AHE community with the latest case studies, new technologies, and best practices for day-to-day challenges.

What does a "sustainability" roadmap look like? I like to think of sustainability as the nexus between people, planet, and profits. Sustainability programs have to work for people: staff, patients, and management. Real change is hard, so our tools have to be relatively simple to use or they won't work. Sustainability is no longer a fad or trend but is here to stay, on behalf of the one planet we have, and to help us operate in ways that protect environmental resources for future generations. Sustainability programs also have to be financially viable—not necessarily profitable but financially sound.

AHE was also a pioneer on sustainable cleaning green initiatives. In 2006 we released a position statement on cleaning green as a preemptive measure to balance the priorities of people, planet, and profits AND to suggest when cleaning green is applicable and appropriate. AHE members participate in design teams that make decisions related to LEED certification and choose durable, aesthetically pleasing, cleanable, environmentally preferable furnishings, wall-coverings, fabrics, carpets, and other interior finishes. We design new waste-handling systems that are more conducive to current goals of increasing reuse and recycling. We've implemented universal waste recycling programs so mercury, heavy metals, and other toxic materials in bulbs, batteries, electronics, and ballasts are managed safely and cost-effectively. The more recent imperative is safe, practical pharmaceutical disposal priorities and staying abreast of the latest regulatory compliance issues and trends for sustainable health care.

Addressing health care's environmental impact is the right thing to do, while still providing a clean, safe environment for patients, visitors, and staff. The Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals will help us get there.

Sustainable health care operation is a big job, and we're fortunate to have the AHE community to share information and best practices. Let us know what you need to make your sustainability programs run more efficiently and effectively. Reach out to AHE and your peers to ask for help and then give it back in return. I'm so proud of AHE for its collective commitment to the challenges around sustainability. Together, we demonstrate our commitment to people, the planet and making sustainable health care a reality every day.

Join us on the journey . . . it will certainly take all of us to get there!

Patti Costello
Executive Director

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