Sustainable practices are sweeping the nation, and Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital is leading the way. SBCH has earned a Platinum Level Environment Sustainability Certificate from the Association for the Healthcare Environment of the American Hospital Association, making it the first hospital in the country to receive this distinction.
An AHE Platinum Certificate acknowledges hospitals for their ongoing commitment to sustainability —― something SBCH has in spades. Through their Environmental Sustainability Committee, SBCH connects people across the hospital to create growing awareness.
“The more we talk about sustainable practices, the more people are interested,” said Jo D’Ambrosio, SBCH Director of Hospitality Services. “As the Committee’s grown, we’ve been able to share even more information about what’s happening within our walls, which excites the whole staff.”
As an interdisciplinary group, the Committee has 24 members. Together, the Committee represents SBCH’s diverse campus, including those from environmental and nutrition services, facilities and clinical departments.
With the Committee’s help, SBCH has seen unprecedented levels of waste reduction. In 2019 alone, the hospital managed to compost two tons of food scraps each month, but that’s not where their success ends. SBCH also recycled over three million gallons of water and diverted two tons of plastic from reaching landfills, among other initiatives.
One of these initiatives is a new surgical wrap-recycling program, where “blue wrap” —― plastic film used to keep surgical supplies sterile —― is broken down and reused instead of thrown away.
“When blue wrap is recycled, the company that takes it breaks it apart into pellets,” said Ms. D’Ambrosio. “With those pellets, (the company) can make products like cans and scrubs. So we’re not only recycling but recycling into items that can be sold in retail.”
While implemented at only a few sites, the program has prevented 2.5 cubic tons of blue wrap from going to waste. With such a high degree of success, Ms. D’Ambrosio hopes SBCH can expand efforts going forward.
“We’re the first hospital to do something like this, and I definitely think we can add other locations,” said Ms. D’Ambrosio. “I can also see peers implementing (the program) if they find the right vendor.”
Initiatives like recycling blue wrap may be new, but the Committee has played a role at the hospital since 2008. Since then, the group’s impact has continued to grow, especially within the last five years.
For Flavid Montoya, SBCH Manager of Environmental Services, that growth comes from data.
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t make changes,” said Mr. Montoya. “Within the last few years, we’ve been able to start measuring everything. This has helped us set goals for ourselves. We just keep breaking information down and peeling the onion.”
In 2012, before environmental efforts really took off, SBCH’s waste diversion was 20%. Now, after eight years, the hospital consistently diverts 40% of its waste away from landfills. That’s around 60 tons of plastic, food scraps and materials being composted or recycled for another purpose.
Still, the Committee’s work goes far beyond numbers.
“This is about reinforcing the culture that’s here at Cottage,” said Mr. Montoya. “It’s something that you can’t put a number on. It’s excellence not just in patient care, but in everything we do.”
From bamboo utensils in the cafeteria to weekly farmers markets, SCBH’s sustainable culture is certainly felt throughout the campus. Still, there’s always room for more. As the Committee continues to meet every month, SBCH hopes to pursue ongoing projects and learn from innovative projects elsewhere.
“We just really want to see what peers are doing in the global market,” said Ms. D’Ambrosio. “This is all exciting, but we’re not done. It’s just made everyone think, ‘What’s next, what can we do, what can we tackle?’ We keep moving forward.”