HackensackUMC Looks To Expand Green Programs

One of Hackensack University Medical Center's green projects is the 'living wall' featuring authentic, native plants and flowers. The wall is found in the lobby atrium of the hospital's John Theurer Cancer Center. The concept behind the 'living wall' is to produce cleaner breathing air. HackensackUMC's 'living wall' is one of the first installed in a hospital setting.

HACKENSACK — Hackensack University Medical Center has demonstrated its commitment to green initiatives through past projects, current ones, and the ambition to continue expanding its sustainability programs.

Its environmentally conscious programs include waste management via a biodigester, LED lighting and recycling, among other practices.

"Last year, across HackensackUMC's facilities, we made great strides in terms of advancing our green initiatives," HackensackUMC President and Chief Executive Officer Robert C. Garrett said. "As an example, we reduced our medical waste by nearly half in just one year from 1.35 million pounds to just 765,000 pounds. As one of the largest employers in the state and a public health organization, we have a responsibility to be top environmental stewards, and we will continue to accelerate our work to achieve a more sustainable future."

According to HackensackUMC officials, the medical center successfully diverted about 250,000 pounds of food from ending up in a landfill by using a biodigester to rid of the waste. A biodigester is a device that utilizes micro-organisms to break down the food into a liquid substance for the drainage system.

In addition, "another 7,000 pounds of vegetable oil waste was sent to the Department of Public Works in Westwood, to be converted into a biodiesel fuel, with far lower greenhouse gas emissions than petroleum-based diesel," HackensackUMC officials said.

Greenhouse gases trap heat in the atmosphere — leading to an effect on the climate, according to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

"In the past year, we saw our "green team" jump from 14 members to 165 as our sustainability proposals quickly became a reality," Deirdre Imus, president and founder of the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center, said. "We look forward to eclipsing our already impressive results in 2014."

The Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center — part of HackensackUMC — is a non-profit corporation devoted to children's health and well-being, as well as that of their parents and the general public, through educational programs and action designed to identify and eliminate the carcinogens and environmental factors that could negatively impact their health.

Kyle Tafuri, sustainability coordinator for the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center, further elaborated on the impact the "green team" has on the medical campus.

"There has been a culture shift in the amount of green champions we have," he said. "Green champions, are all over campus, and they are the point people in the various units. When we first started there were only a handful, now we have over 165. They really do a great job in raising awareness."

In addition, the medical center is currently adding two new chillers — replacing older models. The investment for this project is $7.4 million with annual savings of $645,000, according to officials at the medical center. This is in addition to the medical center's transition to LED lighting. The entire energy efficiency program will be completed this year.

Furthermore, the hospital has also recycled more than one ton of materials including diaper packaging, keyboards, shoes, candy wrappers and chip bags.

"We've partnered with TerraCycle," Tafuri said. "Their whole concept is eliminating waste and upcycling the waste into products. This project has been a success throughout the whole campus. Our IT department collected and recycled keyboards and mouses, we had a shoe collection, collected candy wrappers, diaper packaging."

TerraCycle is an international upcycling and recycling company.

One of the most important initiatives undertaken, according to HackensackUMC officials, was the creation of a sustainable garden outside of John Theurer Cancer Center. This garden features native trees and plants as well as permeable pavers that absorb rain water and reduce runoff. The center also features a "living wall" with plants growing up the side of an atrium — producing cleaner breathing air. According to hospital officials, the wall features over 30 species of plants — all which grow hydroponically, without soil.

According to Bonnie Eskenazi-Melendez, managing director for the Deirdre Imus Environmental Health Center, the green movement within the hospital's campus came to fruition in 2001 when Deirdre Imus began the "Greening the Cleaning" program in which every day cleaning products that were non-toxic or had the least level of toxicity were used throughout. (This doesn't include the specialty products that the medical profession needs within the hospital or operating rooms, Eskenazi-Melendez said.

"It was the first time in health-care that anyone did this," Eskenazi-Melendez said.

The idea of taking a green project to the next level came when, in 2005, the Sarkis & Siran Gabrellian Women's and Children's Pavilion at HackensackUMC opened — becoming the first national hospital of its kind.

The Women's and Children's Pavilion was constructed with recycled steel and features denim insulation as well as natural rubber flooring among other environmentally conscious characteristics.

"We also worked with the contractors to make sure that non-PVC handrails were used," Eskenazi-Melendez said.

VOCs, or volatile organic compounds, "are emitted as gases from certain solids or liquids. VOCs include a variety of chemicals, some of which may have short- and long-term adverse health effects. Concentrations of many VOCs are consistently higher indoors (up to ten times higher) than outdoors. VOCs are emitted by a wide array of products numbering in the thousands," with some of the common health effects being "eye, nose, and throat irritation; headaches, loss of coordination, nausea; damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system. Some organics can cause cancer in animals; some are suspected or known to cause cancer in humans," according to the EPA.

VOCs are found in "paints and lacquers, paint strippers, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings, office equipment such as copiers and printers, correction fluids and carbonless copy paper, graphics and craft materials including glues and adhesives, permanent markers, and photographic solutions," further notes the EPA.

Since then, the hospital campus has been using zero-VOC paint throughout the campus.

Though there are a number of initiatives HackensackUMC has partaken in, there are a number of projects it is working on for the future.

"We are looking into creating, at the Audrey Hepburn Children's House, a sort of rehabilitation type of garden, but that is still in the very, very early stages," Tafuri said. "We are also implementing a 'Stop Light Food Program,' hopefully by the end of the first quarter."

The food program is an initiative to foster healthy eating habits. All three campus cafeterias will participate in the program.

Both Eskenazi-Melendez and Tafuri said that the hospital looks forward to environmentally conscious projects.

"HackensackUMC is committed to improving our carbon footprint and community," Eskenazi-Melendez said.

Email: vazquez@northjersey.com


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