Creating Safe and Healthy Spaces: Selecting Materials That Support Healing
Every year hospitals consume huge volumes of materials. In 2004 alone, the healthcare sector consumed $23 billion worth of durable medical equipment and $32 billion worth of nondurable medical equipment, while investing another $86 billion in structures and medical equipment. This scale of consumption creates both concerns and opportunities.
The concerns stem from how the plastics, metals, fibers, and minerals used in healthcare construction and medical devices affect our health. Materials matter, as Kenneth Geiser wrote in his book by the same title, because as “we mine, synthesize, process, distribute, use, and, finally dispose of materials, we generate worrisome threats to the sustainability of the ecological systems upon which we depend.” As one of the largest economic sectors in the United States, healthcare is a major contributor to the impacts of material consumption.
The opportunities emerge from the position of healthcare—by mission, expertise, and scale of activities—to address material concerns in ways that not only reduce the footprint of their facilities but affect larger change across the medical product industry and even the entire construction industry.
This paper outlines the relationship of the materials and products used in a modern healthcare facility to the chemicals to which our communities are exposed. It emphasizes the opportunities available to healthcare organizations to help society break from its dependence upon toxic materials and define the path to healthier, sustainable materials that benefit patients, communities, nature, and the organizational bottom line. The task is large, but a wide range of healthcare organizations have already outlined manageable steps—see ”Recommendations”—that can lead facilities to gain the benefits of the use of healthier, green materials.