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Thursday, 19 January 2012 09:50

Sustainability efficiency programs: Health care providers work to streamline energy, utilities data with software

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WEST MICHIGAN — Sustainability is increasingly being defined not just by “green” — which can have a number of convoluted meanings — but by companies crunching large matrices of waste and energy use data and coming to meaningful solutions.

But myriad inputs bring about increasing complexity for businesses when it comes time to develop methods for tracking sustainable progress.

By using new software to measure sustainability efforts, West Michigan health care systems are demonstrating that tracking doesn’t have to be an onerous undertaking.

Key Green Solutions, a Grand Rapids-based sustainability software developer, is helping local and out-of-state health care systems manage their multitudes of data in a single, consolidated web-based program. With an emphasis on energy use and waste, as well as ease of user management, Key Green’s product is expected to increase efficiency and bring to light cost issues specific to health care providers.

Jeff Burks, relationship manager with Key Green, said the company got its start about four years ago when Spectrum Health had an initiative to pilot a single-stream recycling program and wanted to very specifically track the variables associated with the effort.

“The technology is very new for health care,” Burks said. “There are sophisticated health systems out there, but the challenge they face there is just piles and piles of data to sort through.”

Burk said typically, health care providers would be tracking various metrics by putting them into spreadsheets, developing reports and then sharing them over an intranet. He said there are usually two different camps in these organizations: one focusing on energy use and one on waste. However, Key Green’s dashboard brings those together and allows for the metrics to be seen and used in a program simply by logging in.

Roughly two and half years ago, with sustainability initiatives finding traction on the executive level, Key Green began expanding its capabilities for other departments to track the various metrics of energy use at hospital facilities. These reports can then be benchmarked against other facilities in the organization. One unique benefit to the program is the partnership that Key Green has with companies like Consumers Energy and DTE, which lets those vendors upload invoice data right into the system, eliminating the need for the health care employees to manually key in the data.

“Reducing manual labor like that is going to allow employees to focus on whatever the actual initiatives are,” Burks said. “At least in health care, we haven’t seen anyone else who is doing that.”

Key Green currently has contracts with organizations in 10 states. Users manage approximately 20 million square feet spread across 50 different facilities. By the end of this year, Key Green projects to be managing 125 million square feet of facilities in 20 states.

As the initial pilot site for the Key Green program, Spectrum Health capitalized on a big opportunity by helping to configure the system, said Joshua Miller, sustainability coordinator for the health system.

“(Key Green) used Spectrum Health waste, water and energy as a model,” Miller said. “We looked at the data on the invoices and how much we were being charged, (and) then worked with those vendors to build some of the inputs for the software.”

For many health care institutions, managing facilities can be a huge task as their campuses expand. Miller said with financial and facilities management data being compiled into one place, the task of targeting areas to reduce costs and carbon footprint is becoming more manageable with programs such as Key Green’s. The plan now, he said, is figuring out what are the best practices for the institution.

“We want to know where are we at and what is that gap, what is that financial gap and what is the energy reduction or waste reduction gap,” Miller said. “For us to gain senior leadership support, they are looking for what is the best practice and where Spectrum is considering that.”

Miller said if Spectrum can see a gap and if his team can prove these tracking programs have good business cases behind them, then there is a possibility that more resources would be put toward these efforts.

Metro Health has been using Key Green software for just more than a year. In June, the health provider rolled out the program to three outpatient facilities and has just recently signed an extended, three-year exclusive contract with Key Green. Alison Waske, Metro Health’s sustainability director who manages the project, said she hopes to establish the program in four more physician offices by January.

“Our data used to be all over the board,” she said. “We needed a way to consolidate all the utilities in one tool.”

Waske explained that, so far, the program has allowed her to manage trends, set goals and avoid oversights. The next step, she said, is a plan to integrate the program to all employees in an effort to become more transparent about Metro’s costs and energy use.

“We’re hoping to get it live by 2012,” she said.

It’s one thing for health care systems to become more sustainable, but many wonder what that means for those receiving care. John Ebers, associate director of sustainability eduction and training at Practice Greenhealth and formerly with Metro Health, said there is more than just the hospital’s efficiency involved.

“There is a community health benefit to it,” he said. “We’re seeing a groundswell of health care organizations looking at these types of systems.”

The Key Green product is becoming more mainstream, but he said that in some of the conversations he’s had about sustainability solutions, health care providers are unaware that this kind of software exists.

Health care providers are becoming more progressive and accepting of sustainability measures and are probably one of the most aggressive in pushing these measures out there, Burks said. When you start to run a more efficient business — in that you are reducing greenhouse gas emissions, sorting waste properly and reducing energy use — it’s going to have a direct impact on patient health, he said.

“Hospitals have real effects on communities,” Burks said. “This software is designed to create a culture of sustainability.”

Read 2132 times Last modified on Monday, 22 October 2012 13:10
Elijah Brumback

Staff Writer

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