- ESG in Healthcare
- Social Defined
- Social Determinants of Health
- Sustainability Defined
- Pillars of Sustainability
- Governance Defined
- Governance: The Scope of Measurement and Control in Healthcare
- Next Steps in ESG for Healthcare
ESG in Healthcare
We've recently been exploring ESG, one of the hottest-trending topics to hit the business world in the last decade, its standing in healthcare, and the implications of making transparent and ethically-minded decisions in the healthcare industry practices.
These more socially-aware practices found footing in the desire for greener initiatives in every industry, especially healthcare, but the investment initiatives in ESG didn't stop there. The social implications of operating with an awareness for global wellness work in tandem with the social aspects of ethical business development and operations and only help to strengthen wellness of community, as well.
As mentioned, green initiatives appear to be pervasive in nearly every industry, even industries whose focus is not on wellness05, so it comes as no surprise that a demand for more sustainable practices in healthcare would be great. Overall improvement in processes, operations, and construction are imperative, but maintaining those practices is key.
Sustainability is defined as being able to maintain over time, but in the business world, it means to "prevent the depletion of natural or physical resources, so that they will remain available for the long term."06
"Forrester data reveals that a third of US online adults say they spend more time thinking about the climate than they did before the Covid-19 pandemic."
Consumers are calling for sustainability which has led to companies 'greenwashing' or misleading consumers about how environmentally sound a product may be in an attempt to deceive them.07
An example of greenwashing in healthcare may look like:08
Has your department been told a disposable laryngoscope "can be included in any existing hospital recycling program?" Or that "Even if not recycled, the steel blade will rusts (sic) away and the overall weight of the plastic in the handle is small, leaving a smaller environmental footprint than the process associated with cleaning reusables?"
The author goes on to state, "Greenwashing is pervasive in many industries and is becoming prevalent in health care as the sustainability movement has gained traction. Concern for the environment is now trendy, creating a lucrative marketing strategy."
Pillars of Sustainability
Sustainability is broken down into three pillars:
- Social or Social Sustainability
While not typically included, the American College of Healthcare Executives (ACHE) and others are calling for System Sustainability to be added to the list. ACHE goes on to state that healthcare is a four-level framework consisting of:09
Economic Sustainability Defined
Economic sustainability refers to practices that support long-term economic growth without negatively impacting social, environmental, and cultural aspects of the community.10
Economic sustainability in healthcare, particularly, means continuous wellness care for the most disadvantaged and vulnerable members of our society, regardless of their financial stability. These means of operation are not exclusive to non-profit facilities and take into account the overall impact on providing care for a working community.
Environmental Sustainability Defined
Sustainability is based on a simple principle: Everything that we need for our survival and well-being depends, either directly or indirectly, on our natural environment. To pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.11
Generally, sustainable concepts in healthcare growth and operations focus upon the co-existence of natural and existing environments. In the last decade, the sustainability concept has gained momentum in design circles by codifying ratings and standards, as well as by gaining professional credentials, and it is widely understood that endeavors faced by the healthcare industry should be approached with a holistic and sustainable mindset.
Sustainability has been an important focus for socially-consciousness organizations. Unsustainable developments are affecting ecosystems and the social systems of humanity worldwide. Historically, and especially in the the wake of the pandemic, the healthcare industry has had a major hand in environment destruction, but new leadership and heightened awareness of global issues have demanded change. Health practitioners should serve as examples of sustainable practice and facilitate the necessary transition into sustainable practices, as health and wellness of body is a model for the world.
Social Sustainability Defined
The American College of Healthcare Executives defines social sustainability in a healthcare system as the hospital or healthcare systems ability to enhance quality of life and improve the well-being in a population.12
A great example of this is the efforts healthcare takes to combat social determinants of health in their community members.
Ochsner Health is an example we've referenced before. Their system has partnered with local and state leaders to create a comprehensive strategy with a 10-year commitment to enhance healthcare access and improve health equity and outcomes.13
How is Healthcare Related to Sustainability?
Social sustainability refers to the ability to enhance the quality of the lives of patients in health settings. Healthcare architecture supports connection, provides access, enhances health and promotes fairness.
These issues are deeply layered and nuanced, and short of having a magic wand to wave to improve social aspects of healthcare and society, what can be done to impact societal change in healthcare?
Because these are overwhelmingly community issues and communities do not exist in a vacuum, social change in healthcare requires community collaboration. How do communities get together to impart a positive impact in healthcare? Collaboration with community, health departments & community leaders, the use of clinical experience in advocacy of social changes, and the participation in local health assessments provides vital information and empowers people and institutions to alter their practices for the better.
The state of healthcare and its impact on social issues is directly affected by advances in technology, better management, and medical developments. However, social movements have also had a profound effect on healthcare institutions and practices.14
Social factors are a major component of an individual's health and well-being and include:
- Education status
- Access to healthcare
- Social connectedness
- Food security
- Housing security
By taking an active role in community outreach initiatives, healthcare organizations can advocate for and enact social change to identify and mitigate health disparities.
"Healthcare governance is defined as the C-suite working in concert with frontline clinical and operational staff to ensure that policies and procedures solve real-world problems, all while keeping a uniform and human-centered approach enterprise wide."15
"Good care depends on good governance"
Market Business News defines Governance as how a corporation governs itself. This includes:
- Board Diversity & Structure
- Executive Compensation
- Political Lobbying
Other previous examples we covered were ethical behavior, tax transparency, and compliance.
"Healthcare is about people. Healthcare networks' most valuable assets are its clinicians and staff members. Ensuring that new policies and technologies help, rather than hinder, providers and staff keeps everyone focused on what's important: Enabling the delivery of safe, high-quality care in a fiscally responsible manner."
- Ensure patients receive safe, good-quality care
- Clearly allocate responsibility within the organization
- Carry out good financial management
"This ESG pillar needs the most reinforcing. In the absence of standard metrics, different health organizations choose to report different information about their internal and external efforts to improve equity."
Governance: The Scope of Measurement and Control in Healthcare
Sustainability studies and reports are more commonplace in business operations now, and they are ways for organizations in every sector to gauge their impact and efforts. Reports for self-governance can include ways organizations have adapted technologies to improve sustainability, such as zero-wasting policies, water conservation, and mobile phone technologies which help reduce carbon consuming.
The healthcare industry is questionably the most criticized, regulated, and important cornerstone of our society and is common metric for the wellness of a nation. Working to satisfy patient need in tandem with ROI and the governing agencies that oversee the industry is a staggering feat, but working efficiently and effectively is a real possibility for healthcare.
Setting standards, both internal and government-imposed, allows healthcare practices that promote higher standards of care, higher standards of workplace wellness, and most importantly, more access to sustainable and affordable health care for community.
Next Steps in ESG for Healthcare
We hope this three-part series had helped educate you more about the importance and need Environmental Social Governance ("ESG") in healthcare, and every industry. There are ways to make strides in these areas in our personal lives, and we can also push the corporate drive for more ethically and socially sustainable practices as consumers.17
Learn more about these initiatives in healthcare and becoming an active part of improving your community, humanity, and the environment:
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1 Understanding ESG: Social Factors | M&H Engineering & Consulting for The Oil & Gas Industry (mhes.com)
2 ESG (Environmental, Social, and Governance) in Healthcare - Thematic Research (globaldata.com)
3 Community Health Needs Assessment | Ochsner Health
4 Ochsner and State Leaders Announce 10-Year Vision for a Healthy State | Ochsner Health
5 8 ways the Oil and Gas Industry is making better use of sustainable technologies (worldfutureenergysummit.com)
6 Sustainability Definition and Real World Examples (investopedia.com)
7 Greenwashing Definition (investopedia.com)
8 Greenwashing in Health Care Marketing | ASA Monitor | American Society of Anesthesiologists (asahq.org)
11 Learn About Sustainability | US EPA
13 Ochsner and State Leaders Announce 10-Year Vision for a Healthy State | Ochsner Health
14 What Is Social Change In the Healthcare Industry? (alliant.edu)
16 Good governance in the care sector | Quality of healthcare | Government.nl
17 ESG | The Report What does Personal ESG have to do with Green Living? (esgthereport.com)