Here’s Why Today’s Nursing Students Should Focus on Sustainability Issues

The health care industry as it stands today uses massive amounts of resources and generates huge amounts of waste per patient per day. While these practices were put in place to protect patients, care givers, and the general public from infections and disease, the health care industry will soon need to “green” itself if it hopes to help humanity survive.2

Today’s nursing students will graduate into a world in which issues of environmental sustainability are more pressing than ever before. Many nurses are already at the forefront of implementing sustainability practices in the health care industry. As their careers progress, the nursing students of today will be tasked more and more with leading the health care industry into a more sustainable future.

Nurses Can Promote Sustainability Literacy

Because nurses provide the majority of day-to-day care to their patients, they’re in an ideal position to promote sustainability literacy in the hospitals and clinics in which they work. It makes sense that the health care industry should occupy a central place in the sustainability movement, because sustainable communities protect the health, safety, and life of present and future generations — a commitment that the health care industry has taken on since its inception.

Many facilities have already committed to working toward a greater sensitivity to environmental issues. Nurses who work in Magnet hospitals may enjoy, among other benefits, exposure to green health care policies in action.

In order to work toward increased sustainability, hospitals and other health care facilities will need to gain an understanding of the need for sustainability practices. Staff will need to develop the skills and knowledge to develop and implement sustainability policies. Institutions that can recognize and reward employees who are committed to sustainability practices will thrive.

Nurses are ideally positioned to help the institutions in which they work understand sustainability issues. They have the power to influence their organizations in many ways, from suggesting recycling bins in patients’ rooms to requesting an increase in the use of reusable medical supplies or the installation of more efficient washers and dryers in the hospital laundry.

Patients Benefit When Nurses Promote Sustainability Practices

Nurses who lead sustainability initiatives in their institutions are more likely to emerge as leaders in their profession. They form stronger relationships and partnerships with other professionals, and are instrumental in educating others in the health care industry about the importance of sustainability practices in health care.

A focus on sustainability can help refine and improve many practices in health care, and the impact on the environment is immediate and noticeable. For example, nurses who work in green hospitals report fewer cases of asthma and other occupational illnesses, because they work in healthier, safer environments. The healthier, safer environment created by sustainability practices in hospitals creates an atmosphere in which patients recover faster and more reliably. Simply put, patients treated in green hospitals are more likely to make it back home again.

Sustainability Practices Benefit Hospitals’ Bottom Lines

Health care costs in the United States are out of control, but implementing sustainability practices is one way that hospitals can help keep costs fromincreasing further.

Increased energy efficiency means lower energy costs for hospitals and clinics, just as it does for any other consumer. Hospitals that invest in reusable medical supplies wherever possible spend less money on disposables, in addition to eating up fewer resources.

When hospitals and other health care facilities commit to protecting the environment, employee engagement improves. That’s because health care workers often care deeply about the environment, and understand the intricate connections between environmental hazards, like pollution, and poor health. Employees in all industries are happier when they’re able to work for organizations that reflect their own personal values, and health care workers are no exception to that rule.

Patients care about sustainability too, and as more patients are empowered to make choices about their health care, institutions that support sustainability practices are more likely to attract the business of eco-conscious patients.

Sustainability issues are more important than ever before, especially for the health care industry, which uses vast amounts of resources in the name of sanitation and good patient outcomes. But patients do better in facilities that make sustainability practices a priority — and so do employees. Since nurses are responsible for much of patient care, they’re uniquely positioned to promote sustainability concerns in the health care industry, and help the organizations they work for make the changes demanded by dwindling resources.


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