In Part II, we cover more advanced ground, revamping your office structure with sustainable, renewable, and biodegradbale materials and devices.
Coverage of the act of “going green” is all over the media; if you haven’t been hit in the face with it by now, you must be living under a rock. But most of the coverage has focused on how to make your home an eco-friendly place, with little information out there on what to do in the office environment, and even less on the physician office.
So, maybe you’ve made some changes at home (eg, turning lights off when you leave a room, making a more conscious effort to recycle paper, plastics, and cans), but what can you do in your office to make a difference and pocket some savings in the process? Let Physician's Money Digest show you the way!
Be sure to download, share with colleagues, and print Physician's Money Digest's Going Green Physician Office Checklist.
“With medical facilities operating 24/7, the interior lighting accounts for about 40%-50% of total electricity usage,” according to Summit Electric Supply. “Applying good lighting design can benefit all by providing a quality well lit environment to patients and staff alike while saving money on total energy usage and maintenance.” Check out Summit’s full line of energy-saving lighting solutions.
Of course, simply turning out the lights when leaving an exam room, bathroom, or other area in the office that won’t be in use for a while is a simple way to save energy and money. Further, motion sensors, dimmers, and timers can be set to turn things on and off when needed.
If you want to go to extremes, check out Solatubes for those rooms with no windows; the aluminum-lined tubes run from the roof to the ceiling, reflecting daylight and creating natural light throughout the day.
Gray water tanks
These systems recycle water from your building’s toilets and other appliances. Ask your commercial building manger about putting them to use.
Furniture made of recycled woods, covered in cottons, silks, and wool, and stuffed with kapok—which comes from a silk-cotton tree—allows for 100% eco-friendly and biodegradable seats, desks, tables, and more.
Many floor choices minimize toxic exposure, including bamboo, a sustainable resource; hardwood floors with nontoxic finishes, although very expensive, which can be refinished with water-based polyurethane; natural linoleum; Marmoleum, a natural alternative to vinyl that is made of flax, wood flour, and rosins; and carpets made of untreated wool. If you’re office is on a cement slab, ask the flooring company to use special concrete nails instead of glue to adhere the padding and carpet, as many glues are toxic.
Walls can be painted with nontoxic primers and paints, including those papered with wallpapers made of reclaimed paper pulp and bark.
Choose surgical-grade cloth—which can be sterilized and reused—over disposable plastic and paper wrapping. And use metal, reusable speculae instead of those that are disposable. They’re easier to slide of tissue, have more “heft,” and lend themselves to being heated with warm water for certain exams, according to the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention.
Digital imaging not only eliminates paper use, but results in 75-90% less radiation exposure to patients and also eliminates the use of toxic x-ray development chemicals.
Gowns and table covers
Try cotton terry cloth robes and exam room table covers, instead of paper, which will obviously reduce waste. One physician said “Drape contamination is rare and minimal. I’ve examined patients with hepatitis B and C, various soft tissue infections, and acute upper and lower respiratory infections many times over the years with any problems.”
The same physician adds “I rarely put gowns on patients. I usually use my own clothing as a gown, and slip or slide it around as needed. Patients prefer it, and it saves the use of extra drapery.”
If you decide to go the cloth gown route, try setting up a contract with a linen company that will supply and wash them; otherwise, you’ll be stuck with the task. If you decide to take it on yourself, wash them in hot water and a hydrogen-peroxide-based disinfectant, as opposed to one that’s chlorine-based. Dry them on the hot setting too, helping inactive any organisms.
The most widely used plastic in medical devices is PVC, which is harmful to patients, the environment, and public health, according to Health Care Without Harm. The key problems with PVC are dioxin—a known human carcinogen that can be formed during PVC manufacturing and during the incineration of PVC products—and DEHP—a phthalate used to soften PVC plastic that can leach from PVC medical devices and has been linked to reproductive birth defects and other illnesses in animal studies.
According to the Canadian Centre for Pollution Prevention, it’s absolutely necessary for a doctor’s office to have tabletop steam sterilizers, which don’t use chemical disinfecting agents. The Centre says they must first be thoroughly washed after use and then wrapped (if necessary) before sterilizing.