Kaiser Permanente Greens its Supply Chain by Switching to Safer IV Equipment

Kaiser Permanente is perhaps one of the biggest names in the medical industry. Yesterday, the company announced that it is converting its IV medical equipment to safer alternatives that do not contain PVC (Polyvinyl chloride) and DEHP (di-2-ethyl hexyl phthalate).  Both these chemicals are widely used in plastics and have been shown to harm human and environmental health.

Exposure to DEHP, used as a plasticizer in medical devices such as IV bags and tubing, can disrupt the body’s endocrine system, resulting in a variety of hormonal abnormalities, particularly in infants. When PVC plastic is manufactured or incinerated, dioxin pollution is created and dioxin is a known carcinogen.

As part of their green supply chain policies, the company has agreed to purchase IV solution bags and tubing that is 100 percent free of these harmful chemicals. Every year the company purchases  4.9 million IV tubing sets and 9.2 million solution bags. This conversion affects nearly 100 tons of medical equipment and also is expected to save close to $5 million a year.

This move is the first of its kind in the health care industry and sets a model for green purchasing in the sector. The Kaiser Permanente Sustainability Scorecard was launched in 2010 and it allows the company to evaluate the environmental and health impact of each medical item it purchases. This system also encourages suppliers to provide greener products for the health care sector as it requires suppliers to provide information on their company’s environmental performance.

According to Barry Brenner, vice president for medical sourcing at KP, “Kaiser Permanente recognizes we can improve health today and for the future by taking a close look at the products we purchase. With Kaiser Permanente’s size and influence, we are able to move the industry to create greener products.”

KP spends more than $1 billion each year on medical products. The focus on greener supply chain is just one aspect of Kaiser Permanente’s CSR initiatives which also include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the use of harmful chemicals and promoting sustainable food choices. The organization is dedicated to environmental sustainability because it has direct, positive effects on individual and community health.

Kaiser Permanente’s environmental stewardship also extends to green building efforts. This alone has saved the company more than $10 million per year and has eliminated the purchase and disposal of 40 tons of harmful chemicals in its facilities. For example, KP has worked with suppliers to eliminate the use of mercury in its products. They are also investing in renewable energy and have agreed to deploy 15 megawatts of solar power in a deal that has placed solar panels at Kaiser Permanente facilities across California.

With this new measure of safer IV equipment, the company hopes to make a land-mark move to safeguard their patients. Hopefully other medical institutions will recognize this move and follow suit.

Akhila is the Founding Director of GreenDen Consultancy which is dedicated to offering business analysis, reporting and marketing solutions powered by sustainability and social responsibility. Based in the US, Europe, and India, the GreenDen's consultants share the best practices and innovation from around the globe to achieve real results. She has previously written about CSR and ethical consumption for Justmeans and hopes to put a fresh spin on things for this column. As an IEMA certified CSR practitioner, she hopes to highlight a new way of doing business. She believes that consumers have the immense power to change 'business as usual' through their choices. She is a Graduate in Molecular Biology from the University of Glasgow, UK and in Environmental Management and Law. In her free-time she is a voracious reader and enjoys photography, yoga, travelling and the great outdoors. She can be contacted via Twitter @aksvi and also http://www.thegreenden.net

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