How to make your practice more "green"

December 19, 2008
Brandon Glenn
Brandon Glenn

A few steps toward eco-friendliness could improve your practice - and your world.

Key Points

She buys "green" cleaning products and green office furniture. Her office's exam tables and rolling stools are free of PVC, a plastic that can release toxic chemicals into the air.

Physicians swear an oath to "do no harm," but many, like Chaudhuri, are growing increasingly concerned with the harm their industry inflicts on the environment and their patients. "As physicians, there's only so much we can do," she says, but she knows that her practice can set a good example for her patients and perhaps for other practices too. For Chaudhuri, that's reason enough to justify her efforts.

And every little bit counts, environmental advocates say-even initiatives as rudimentary as encouraging employees to carpool or adding recycling bins to the kitchen and break areas.

"People might look at that and say, 'My God, what minutiae!' But it's really about how much thinking about sustainability penetrates your culture," says Charles Kilo, MD, an internist who founded the Portland, Oregon-based medical clinic Greenfield Health in 2001.

For Kilo, being green fits into his goal of running an innovative practice. Greenfield tries to be "a completely different doctor's office," he says, in part by offering e-mail and phone consultations, same-day appointments, online access to medical records, and home visits.

"We believe that we need to explore how to reduce our overall environmental impact and improve sustainability, right along with focusing on how we improve care and how we innovate in the improvement of care," he says.

Kilo is not the only one to connect environmental friendliness to superior patient care. At its annual policy meeting in November, the American Medical Association voted to pass a resolution supporting "responsible" waste management practices, the use of ecologically sustainable products, and building practices that "contribute to a healthy environment." In recent years, the AMA has adopted policies that encourage recycling in the medical community and called for physicians to be spokespeople for environmental stewardship.

Before most doctors can become green advocates, though, they'll need to make some changes to their own practices. The good news? Most green techniques, at least those that don't involve investing in an electronic health records system, don't require huge investments of time and money-just a bit of effort and commitment from you and your staff. Following is a guide to greening your practice, starting with simple, low-cost steps and building up to more complex, costly options.