NEW YORK NURSE: January/February 2010
Q.: What are “green teams?” My hospital wants to start one, but we are not sure what to do.
A.: Green teams are interdisciplinary teams that identify, plan, and implement environmentally sustainable initiatives, such as waste reduction, energy conservation, and environmentally preferable purchasing. The green teams at your facility are really the driving force behind all of your environmental initiatives.
There are many benefits of having a green team, not only for employees and patients, but also for the public at large. Green teams influence all aspects of facility business – from building design, construction, and renovation; to purchase, use, and disposal of everything they use. They often encourage the use of green cleaners, less toxic chemicals, and even the use of less hazardous patient-care products. This, in turn, will decrease the amount of toxic chemicals to which employees and patients are exposed. Over time, exposure to these toxic chemicals often leads to health problems such as asthma. The decrease in waste and increase in recycling reduces the negative impact on the overall public’s health.
There are many success stories reported by green teams. For example, one food and nutrition department took the Healthy Food in Health Care Pledge (www.ecocenter.org/healthyfood/pledge.php), committing to offering healthier foods by purchasing more local, nutritious, and sustainably produced food. Locally grown and purchased food travels less than 50 miles, which cuts down considerably on air pollution. As an added advantage, food can be picked at its peak ripeness, offering more nutritional benefits and requiring less packaging. The green team put in place a policy that the farmers participating use minimal amounts (or no) pesticides. Your food services department can participate in a “Buy Local Challenge” (www.buy-local-challenge.com), and try to serve one or more local foods per day in the cafe. This practice can also be expanded into an on-site farmers’ market to encourage this best practice at home for staff and visitors.
In another hospital, a waste reduction and separation program was implemented. This program vastly reduced the amount of red-bag waste being sent out of the facility. As an added benefit, the program saved the hospital substantial costs associated with regulated medical waste handling. The program featured a purchasing practice, in which it only purchased items that are free of potentially hazardous chemicals, are made out of recycled products, or can be recycled when discarded.
A small group of interested employees can start the team under the auspices of the Health and Safety or Environment of Care committees. Next, pick an easily attainable and sustainable goal. Clearly define the goal in order to get everybody on board. Once your team has a clearly defined goal, plan a strategy to achieve the goal and set a time line for implementation. Publicize your success right here in NY Nurse. Then, move on to the next goal! A few of the helpful websites are noted above. Another good site is the “Healthcare Without Harm” website: www.noharm.org.
The NYSNA EGW Program receives many inquiries each month from members who have problems in their workplaces. If you have a question about labor relations at your facility, contact your NYSNA nursing representative. If you have a question you think should be featured in this column, send it to: RNs at Work, NYSNA, 120 Wall Street, 23rd Floor, New York, N.Y. 10005.