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Nurses Going Green

Nurses Going Green

Suggestions for lightening your footprint at work

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I think of myself as a person who tries very hard to be conscious of my footprint on the earth, but the University of Virginia Health Systems nurses have beat me by a mile. To celebrate the two-year anniversary of attaining ANCC Magnet status they held a “green coffee house” on Sept. 15. They demonstrated their commitment to the environment by collecting 1.8 tons of recyclable materials in a 30-day period — materials that otherwise would have wound up in a landfill. Check out their pictures by going to and searching “green coffee house.”

Earlier in the year I’d read a post on third semester nursing student’s blog called Brain Scramble about nursing and the environment, and ways she found a way to make her career path more ecologically friendly ( Some ideas I was already familiar with — I use public transit (mainly because the cost of parking here would more than triple my daily expense, and driving solo to work would barely shave any time off my 90-minute each way trip) and I pack my lunch in a very chic reusable bag that keeps my fruit and yogurt ice cold.

But some of the suggestions shocked me with their simplicity. Reuse toner cartridges for my printer? I wasn’t even aware that it was an option. Fit multiple PowerPoint slides on one piece of paper? Genius!

After that I began to wonder how environmentally friendly my work environment as a whole was, and found that there are some good resources on the web. Kai Abelkis is the environmental coordinator for Boulder Community Hospital, the first in the country to earn LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) from the U.S. Green Building Council. In an interview given to The Green Guide ( she says that there is a “direct link between how we affect the environment and our health.”

Some of the changes made at Boulder Community Hospital include using drought-tolerant plantings to reduce the need for watering, designing outdoor lighting to reduce light pollution and painting the roof white to reflect summer heat and lower the demand for air conditioning.

Maybe you’d like to do an inventory at your own facility to see if you can make a difference. The advice from The California Integrated Waste Management Board ( is to target the large waste stream and start with the easy waste reduction. Hospitals are one of the largest contributors of waste in the U.S., and much of it comes from food, paper and recyclables. Consider the amount of ubiquitous blue wrap used for surgical procedures and how much of it ends up in the trash. Some suggestions to implement are to eliminate trash liners in administrative areas, look to purchase items with minimal packaging and replace disposables with reusables. For starters, think about the admissions kit and how much of that is tossed away every day. Start small and set a good example. Nurses rule!

Christine Contillo RN, BSN, has worked as a nurse since 1979 and has written extensively for various nursing publications as well as The New York Times.

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