Nearly all of the human body’s major systems depend on water to function effectively. Clean water sources are essential not just for our own wellbeing, but for the health of innumerable species on our planet. We are committed to protecting bodies of water located near our areas of operation, such as Lake Erie in Ohio and the Everglades in Florida. Our water stewardship strategy includes conserving water, preserving water quality and managing stormwater and wastewater.
In 2019, Cleveland celebrated Cuyahoga50, a series of events celebrating the improvement of water quality in the Cuyahoga River. Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 13th and most widely publicized time the Cuyahoga River caught fire, Cuyahoga50 was the largest series of clean water events in the country with 25 events over the course of five days. When the Cuyahoga River caught fire in 1969, TIME magazine covered the story, raising awareness of industrial pollution and the state of the country’s waterways. One year after the infamous fire, the U.S. government created the Environmental Protection Agency and signed the Clean Water Act into law two years later. Today, the Cuyahoga River supports more than 60 different species of fish. Cleveland Clinic participated in various events throughout the week, including supporting the Sustainable Cleveland 2019 Summit as a Blue Lake-level sponsor. To raise awareness of Cuyahoga50 and clean water, we also collaborated with local artist Dana Depew on an art installation outside of Taussig Cancer Center on our main campus.
Conserving water reduces the need to divert water from local sources, as well as the energy required to transport, heat, and clean water. Our goal is to reduce our water consumption by 10% from our 2016 baseline by 2027. We decided to change our baseline year from 2015 to 2016 because we enhanced our data collection practices for water data in 2016, and data from this year serves as a more consistent and reliable baseline. Our water conservation strategies include green building design, landscaping and caregiver engagement.
We consciously include water conservation measures in the design of new facilities. Initiatives include the installation of high efficiency fixtures, equipment and irrigation systems. We also install fixtures with motion sensors and low-flow faucets, toilets and showers in our facilities where feasible. To conserve water used in landscaping, we capture rainwater, install high-efficiency sprinkler systems with moisture sensors and plant drought-tolerant vegetation.
Caregiver engagement is core to all of our resource conservation programs. Through the Sustainability team’s Connect Today site—a caregiver collaboration platform that enables teams to create communities with unique content—we provide caregivers with tips on conserving water at work and at home, and also provide a form caregivers can use to report leaks. Additionally, our green teams and committees share and promote water-saving behaviors across the enterprise. For example, we incorporated waterless hand scrub in our operating rooms as a result of a project championed by one of our Ken Lee Memorial Fellows and Greening the Operating Room Committee.
Our water use per square foot decreased by 9% in 2020 compared to 2019, largely due to disruptions in our operations during the COVID-19 pandemic. Since 2016, we have reduced our water use per square foot by 11%.
To safeguard water quality, Cleveland Clinic has robust initiatives regarding chemical use and management, and the generation and handling of waste. For example, we have reduced the number of chemicals we use and promote the use of chemicals that are safer for human and environmental health through our Green Cleaning Directive and Integrated Pest Management Operating Procedure. We also minimize the use of herbicides and pesticides in our landscaping, and prioritize organic treatments on the lawn of Crile Mall at main campus, where we host our weekly farmers market during the months of April through September each year.
Our drug take-back program supports our efforts to reduce illegal diversion and disposal of unused medications, protecting communities and water quality. Caregivers, patients and families can drop off unused prescription medications (including inhalers), over-the-counter medications and other drugs at nine drop off locations in Northeast Ohio 365 days a year:
- Beachwood Family Health Center
- Crile Pharmacy (main campus)
- Euclid Avenue Pharmacy (main campus)
- Hillcrest Hospital
- Independence Family Health Center
- Lutheran Hospital
- Marymount Hospital
- Medina Hospital
- Richard E. Jacobs Family Health Center
We ensure the shredding of all prescription bottles with labels to ensure confidentiality. In 2019, Cleveland Clinic pharmacies collected more than 2,100 pounds of unused medications.
Wastewater & Stormwater Management
Through our water conservation and water quality improvement efforts, we reduce the amount of wastewater we generate and have measures in place to prevent hazardous materials from entering our waterways. We also take action to manage stormwater and prevent stormwater runoff, which is important to us because several of our facilities are located near bodies of water. During heavy rains, if there are not enough areas where rainwater can be reabsorbed into the ground, it travels to the sewer system and local bodies of water. This can negatively impact local bodies of water because as stormwater travels, it can collect herbicides, oil, gasoline and other pollutants and carry them into waterways. When large quantities of water enter drains in areas with combined sewer systems (e.g. Cleveland), the mixed rainwater and sewage overflow into local bodies of water when the system reaches capacity. For this reason, nearly 4.5 billion gallons of combined rainwater and sewage from Cleveland and its surrounding communities overflow into Lake Erie and other local waterways each year, according to the Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District.1
Actions Cleveland Clinic is taking to manage stormwater and reduce runoff include:
- Increasing the amount of vegetated space and decreasing the amount of impervious space in our new construction projects
- Creating a green masterplan for our main campus, which includes green roofs, gardens and more trees
- Collecting rainwater at our hospitals and family health centers and installing stormwater management infrastructure, such as rain gardens with native plants, pervious pavers and detention ponds
- Supporting Green Teams in creating and maintaining gardens at their facilities
- Reducing impervious area created by surface parking lots by consolidating parking at main campus and Fairview Hospital via parking garages
- Collaborating with community partners to plant trees in our neighboring Fairfax community and giving away trees to our caregivers to plant at their homes in support of Cleveland’s Tree Plan
1 Northeast Ohio Regional Sewer District, “About Project Clean Lake,” accessed 30 July 2019, neorsd.org/community/about-the-project-clean-lake-program.