By Gary Cohen, Founder and President, Health Care Without Harm
Since the time of the industrial revolution in Europe, our planet has been bombarded with chemicals in increasing quantities. In that approximate 200 year period, chemical contamination has enveloped most of the planet, as these substances are carried through media that know few boundaries—mostly air and water.
Cleaning up the chemical mess will take generations; stopping the contamination, however, is within our power but only if we work with both supply and demand, and deal with both the raw materials and end of life considerations for products.
That’s why an initiative to question suppliers about the chemical makeup and sustainability of products announced today by Practice Greenhealth and five major health care sector Group Purchasing Organizations (GPOs) is significant and so important. It is admittedly just a first step, but for the first time, these GPOs have formed a shared agreement to ask their suppliers questions about the chemical makeup of their products. The impact of this initiative on the entire chemical supply chain could be tremendous.
“The impact of this initiative on the entire chemical supply chain could be tremendous.”
First, the GPOs involved– Amerinet, Inc.; HealthTrust Purchasing Group; MedAssets, Inc.; Novation LLC; and Premier, Inc., represent over $135 billion in annual purchasing volume. The sheer numbers involved in this new initiative means that suppliers will need to pay attention. The fact that increasing numbers of hospitals are demanding products made without harmful chemicals or with alternative, safer chemicals, will give manufacturers an opportunity to meet evolving customer demands and reward innovation and development of safer chemicals.
Second, as these major GPOs respond to their own customer demand to know more about the chemical ingredients of the products they purchase, suppliers will become more aware of their own need to know, and will put more pressure on chemical manufacturers to disclose the chemical makeup of their products. Ultimately, greater transparency leads to a better educated consumer and can help create the market conditions that allow federal and state regulators do a better job of regulating toxic substances.
Hospitals that are looking for safer and more sustainable products are to be commended for their commitment to reducing their environmental footprint. Practice Greenhealth is to be commended for their work in bringing group purchasing organizations, hospitals, and the business community together at the table to craft the questions about products that suppliers will need to answer. And the GPOs involved are to be commended for putting aside all competition to work together to help green the supply chain. Such significant steps have been seen in no other industry.
“The GPOs involved are to be commended for putting aside all competition to work together to help green the supply chain. Such significant steps have been seen in no other industry.”
With the health care sector making up almost 17 percent of the nation’s GNP, this new initiative should have an impact on other sectors as well. When health care demonstrates leadership in the market, be it around mercury, or PVC and phthalates, it has a broader market ripple effect caused not only by the size of the health care market but also the integrity of the messenger. This message is starting to take effect as we have seen an upswing in individual consumers’ willingness to purchase products that won’t harm their health, from home furnishings and cleaners to lawn care items and paint. This market shift will be even more likely to happen as hospitals use their purchasing power to make safer products more widely available to consumers.
The health care sector is one of the few industries in the country with the purchasing power to make significant reduction in chemical contamination simply by changing product demand. We may not be seeing the end of chemical contamination in our lifetimes, but we can have hopes that today’s action signals the beginning of the end.