Wall Street Journal: PVC Elimination Prominent In Green Hospitals

Bill Walsh | October 11, 2006 | Materials

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An October 4th Wall Street Journal (WSJ) profile on the greening of health care facilities places PVC elimination at the center of story, and for good reason. The health care industry's ability to create and implement health-based green building standards is central to the future success of the green building movement as it is represented by the US Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED Rating System.

According to the WSJ, while vinyl manufacturers dismiss the environmental health risks associated with PVC, leaders in the green healthcare field are dismissing PVC. Gary Cohen, Executive Director of the non-profit advocacy group Health Care Without Harm, attributes this to the health care professionals' "responsibility to choose the safest course when evidence suggests harmful effects."

This common sense approach to environment and health protection is at the crux of every major environmental health debate. Where the chemical and plastics industries advocate a "wait and see" approach, healthy building advocates urge a precautionary approach -- choosing safer alternatives in the face of mounting evidence of danger, but before the consequences are irreversible.

Where activists point to responsibility, hospital administrators invoke market power. Christine Malcolm is senior vice president of national facilities and hospitals for Kaiser Permanente. Kaiser, widely acknowledged as a major force in the green health care field, has a policy of eliminating PVC use in its facilities. Using the industry's purchasing power, says Malcolm in the WSJ, "we can force suppliers to generate environmentally sensitive products."

PVC-free carpet, for example.

Collins and Aikman (C&A), is one of the nation's largest manufacturers of PVC-backed carpet. Recently C&A helped persuade the state of California to treat recycled PVC carpets more favorably than new environmentally superior plastics for which there is no waste stream to recycle, yet. Faced with Kaiser Permanente's policy of eliminating PVC from its green buildings, however, C&A developed an entirely new line of PVC-free carpet, and bested rival bidders who had existing PVC-free lines. [2]

The health care industry's heightened awareness of both its market power and its responsibility, and the markets responsiveness to its leadership, is making PVC reduction a well-accepted strategy for achieving human health-related points under the Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC).

The WSJ quotes the nonprofit Center for Health Design assessment that more than 180 health-care facilities have been built or are being designed and constructed to green building standards, such as those set by the GGHC [3].

The GGHC estimates that some 20 million square feet of health-care facilities are being built or renovated using the guide, which is based upon the LEED rating system but is augmented by twenty-four credits relating to human health concerns.

Organizations like Kaiser Permanente hope to see the GGHC's innovations incorporated without compromise into the upcoming LEED for Healthcare to help guide the estimated $200 billion that will be spent in the next decade to replace, rebuild and increase the capacity of health care institutions to meet the growing demand of the aging baby boom generation. By embracing this approach in LEED for healthcare, the USGBC will put the precautionary principle into action and establish a healthy threshold for all green buildings.


[1] Hospitals Go 'Green' To Cut Toxins, Improve Patient Environment, Wall Street Journal, October 4, 2006; Page D1.

[2] Greiner, T. et al, Healthy Business Strategies for Transforming the Toxic Chemical Economy, Clean Production Action, 2006, p.15.

[3] Designing the 21st Century Hospital: Environmental Leadership for Healthier Patients and Facilities, Center for Health Design, 2006, page 17.