Environmental Sustainability

Healthy Planet. Healthy Communities. Healthy People.

RUSH is committed to environmental sustainability, because we know you can’t have healthy people on a sick planet. We also know that climate change is fundamentally a human health issue that disproportionately impacts those who are most vulnerable.

One of our core values is accountability, and we live this value by striving to minimize the impact we have on the environment. By reducing that impact, we are helping to improve the health of the people and diverse communities we serve, both now and into the future.

From our operating rooms to our central kitchen to our new facilities on campus, RUSH is pursuing ways to make our planet, communities and people healthier.

These initiatives are driven by the Environmental Sustainability Team, whose mission is to actively measure, manage and minimize our environmental footprint. Though its work is just getting started, the team is collaborating with internal and external partners to amplify its positive impact in alignment with RUSH’s overarching mission to improve community and human health.

Graphic with the words Environmental Sustainability at RUSH

Five Pillars of Impact

Learn more about RUSH’s commitment to environmental sustainability through the Environmental Sustainability Team’s Five Pillars of Impact and highlighted projects listed below.

Climate Change

RUSH is actively decreasing our greenhouse gas emissions through active tracking, analysis, and reduction projects.

Climate change is a global challenge, but we acknowledge it disproportionately falls on communities of color and those who are most vulnerable, especially here in Chicago and our surrounding communities.

The healthcare sector is estimated to be responsible for nearly 10% of the total greenhouse gases emitted in the United States. To address this, we are thinking globally and acting locally by minimizing our contributions to climate change, while also taking steps to enhance climate resilience in our facilities and communities. Here’s how:

  • In June of 2022, RUSH signed the Health and Human Services Climate Pledge
  • We’re committed to 100% Renewable energy by 2030
  • We’re decreasing our use of Desflurane — the most potent of all inhaled anesthetic gases. It’s a potent contributor to climate change since it lasts longer and is more effective at trapping heat once released into the atmosphere. Since 2017, RUSH has decreased our use of the gas by 97% and has opted for anesthetic gases that are less harmful to the environment without compromising patient safety.

RUSH is rethinking our waste through reduction, reuse, reprocessing, recycling and other proactive landfill diversion initiatives across campus.

Healthcare delivery can result in the generation of nearly 29 pounds of waste per bed per day. That comes out to an estimated 5 million tons of waste per year. Though it is a challenging mountain to climb, we are actively taking meaningful steps on our waste reduction journey without sacrificing safety or quality of care for our patients or providers.

In 2022, RUSH University Medical Center diverted the following from landfill:

  • 10,300 pounds of single-use medical devices collected from our operating rooms and patient care rooms. More than 95,000 devices were collected. Almost all of them were able to be sterilized and recertified for reuse. The rest were recycled.
  • In the last two months of the year, 27,000 pounds of organic waste was collected for offsite composting thanks to the launch of a composting program in the RUSH University Medical Center’s central kitchen.
  • RUSH collected and donated 19,700 pounds of surplus food to our neighbors at Franciscan Outreach, which provides meals, shelter and services to the homeless and marginalized.
  • We diverted 35,000 pounds of usable furniture and equipment from landfills by finding new homes for them onsite through the Rheaply platform.
Natural Resources

RUSH is decreasing our campus resource consumption (electricity, natural gas, water and steam) by identifying and implementing utilities efficiency projects.

The healthcare sector consumes nearly 10% of the total energy and 7% of the total water used in commercial buildings in the U.S. By pursuing opportunities to be more resource efficient, we are enhancing our resilience, reducing costs, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions tied to electricity generation and burning natural gas. Here’s how:

  • Building in efficiency by designing new buildings on campus to be LEED Gold certified.
  • In 2022, efficiency projects decreased electricity consumption by 3.4 million kilowatt-hours per year.
  • In 2020, we upgraded our medical gas delivery system to improve efficiency. The new system saves 11 million gallons of water per year.
  • RUSH University Medical Center was awarded Project of the Year for the highest electricity reduction in ComEd’s territory. This project will save the medical center 2.2 million kilowatt-hours per year.

RUSH is leveraging our purchasing power to create positive change upstream and downstream of our facilities and in the process, across our value chain.

It is estimated that over 70% of healthcare’s greenhouse gas emissions come from our supply chain. RUSH purchases and uses thousands of products to deliver award-winning care, with products coming from all around the world. This can also come with significant environmental impact from manufacturing and delivery. We are building processes to measure and address this impact with dedicated, collaborative partnerships both internally and externally. Here’s how:

  • Being an early signatory of the Healthcare Anchor Network’s Impact Purchasing Commitment and committing to attaining sustainable procurement goals by 2025.
  • Collaborating with our Community Health Equity and Engagement and Anchor Mission teams to leverage our spend as a force for positive local impact.
  • Joining the Good Food Purchasing Program to identify opportunities to increase spend on local, diverse food suppliers and distributors in support of enhancing our local food ecosystem.
  • Signing the Coolfood Pledge to reduce the climate impact of the food we serve to patients, staff, faculty, and students.
  • Creating a sustainability filter for our value analysis program to better understand and minimize the environmental impacts of products we purchase.

RUSH is inspiring staff, students, and visitors to actively support our sustainability efforts and grow our positive impact through storytelling, best practice sharing, and volunteer opportunities.

Improving human health is at the center of all we do at RUSH: The more people we can inspire to be involved in this work, the greater our collective positive impact. Whether you’re a patient receiving care at RUSH, a provider administering the care, or a student attending our award-winning university, we want everyone to feel empowered to actively support sustainability efforts.

It’s why we’re always sharing new ways to get involved — whether it’s through attending guest lectures, hosting annual environmental/sustainability internships for students, or participating in Earth Month challenges. Here’s how:

  • Collaborating with colleagues across RUSH to create the RUSH Commitment — a cross-functional team focused on identifying and implementing opportunities to infuse environmental sustainability across our organization.
  • Guest lecturing in a variety of RUSH University classes and department meetings and hosting quarterly lunch and learn sessions.
  • Providing annual Earth Month activities for students, faculty and staff including the Earth Month Challenge, tree giveaways and presentations.

RUSH awards and recognition for sustainability

2023 Emerald Greenhealth Award

This competitive award recognizes advanced sustainability programs. RUSH was within the top 20% of the Partner for Change applicants.

2022 Greenhealth Partner for Change Award

This award recognizes superior performance in environmental sustainability programs and activities. Winners have also made significant progress on mercury elimination.  

2023 Making Medicine Mercury Free Award

This award recognizes hospitals that have virtually eliminated mercury from their facilities and have made a commitment to continue to be “mercury free.”

My Green Lab Certification

Five research labs at RUSH are pursuing a My Green Lab Certification to limit the impact medical research has on climate change. My Green Lab has been recognized as a key player in the United Nation’s “Race to Zero” campaign. Participating labs fill out surveys to help identify opportunities to increase sustainability.

2019 Sustainability in Healthcare Management Education & Practice Award

The RUSH University MS-HSM department received this competitive award for its work in creating sustainable, inclusive, and socially responsible healthcare organizations.

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Meet the Environmental Sustainability Team

RUSH’s environmental efforts are driven by our Environmental Sustainability Team. Officially created in March of 2020, its mission is to actively measure, manage and minimize RUSH’s environmental footprint. The team is currently focused on the RUSH University Medical Center but will eventually expand its work to the entire RUSH system.

Ian Hughes (he/him)

Ian Hughes

Ian Hughes is the director of environmental sustainability at RUSH University Medical Center. Since 2020, he’s been working to improve human and community health by focusing on five areas of impact: climate change, waste, resource consumption, sustainable procurement and engaging and educating others in sustainability action.

Before starting at RUSH, Ian worked for seven years in environmental and sustainability consulting roles across a variety of sectors. He’s used a variety of megaphones to amplify sustainability initiatives throughout his career, including coal, water, beer, utility incentives and cost savings.

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