Leading health systems have embraced sustainability as a strategic imperative. They’ve invested in leadership and secured significant improvements in eco-friendly performance, often securing cost savings at the same time .
Early improvements focused on “big wins” – slashing energy expenditures, or managing hazardous medical waste. As health system efforts mature, however, attention turns to individual product sourcing decisions that can minimize waste, maximize sustainable sources, and utilize safer materials.
Happily for health systems, prices for many “green” products have become competitive with traditionally-sourced items. Supply chain leaders can advance their health systems’ environmentally-responsible strategies by considering the eco merits of more products, alongside traditional measures of quality and cost.
New Prompts for Product Scrutiny
How should supply chain leaders select products for updated evaluation? Opportunity for improvement remains in most categories, even for progressive health systems, and supply chain teams have limited resources. What makes a particular product eligible for potential conversion?
Our customers tell us that they typically respond to three triggers to put a particular product up for environmental evaluation:
- Alignment to external standards: Health systems tell us that they are working hard to comply with changing local ordinances for eco-friendly products. This year, for example, many of our customers are working to adhere to local polystyrene (Styrofoam) bans in food service products, by changing foam hot beverage cups to recyclable paper products.
- Internal initiatives: Staff outside the supply chain can bring improvement ideas into practice, by applying their unparalleled knowledge of utilization and clinician preferences. Clinical staff have led utilization improvements inside the OR, for example, by working with supply chain to streamline custom packs, including only the most-used items and minimizing waste.
- Product innovation: Finally, some product conversions are only possible when manufacturing and materials catch up to the unique field requirements in healthcare. For example, biodegradable textiles have improved rapidly in recently years, unlocking new sustainable product development in operating room and laboratory attire such as warm up jackets.
Define Your Requirements
Just as health systems define local clinical and quality requirements, they must also define their own sustainability requirements for eco-friendly products. Eco-friendly products can serve different objectives. Consider the difference between choosing a “recycled” material vs. “recyclable” material – both help to re-use materials, but these options have different impacts on the material’s life cycle.
Health systems must clearly define their own sustainability objectives and strategies to make rational decisions for their local capabilities and resources. If specific material requirements are in place (e.g. “avoiding ‘chemicals of concern’”), health systems should develop and document manufacturing credentials that suppliers must abide by.
Finally, health systems must define product performance requirements precisely, to protect quality for end-users. Non-health care-specific requirements may not be the best fit: disposable beverage cups, for example, are often engineered with a barrier coating to hold liquid securely for weeks. This is a reasonable expectation for a coffee shop whose to-go cups might end up forgotten in your car. But hospital end-users often use paper cups in a time-limited setting (eg dietary service cups that are cleared away with meal trays, or for patient hydration in a post-op unit). Understanding the precise end-user requirements for disposable cups helped us produce an affordable, recyclable paper cup.
Choose the Right Supply Chain Partners
As health systems push for environmentally-friendly options and supply chain transparency in new categories, suppliers must be ready to develop new products or customize existing products. At ASP Global, we offer a collaborative approach to greener sourcing. Health systems work with us to fulfill their unique product requirements, whether it’s as simple as applying their logo to an existing product, as clinically-driven as customizing a sterile procedure pack, or as innovative as creating a novel product prototype for a safe but biodegradable specimen bag. Our commitment to a direct and transparent supply chain gives health systems control over product inputs and near-limitless options for product design.
We give health systems control over product quality, cost and design in support of sustainable sourcing strategies, and we look forward to connecting you to new green options.
For more information on ASP Global’s direct sourcing solutions for all health systems, please contact Chuck Culpin.