Device Talks Boston in May featured a panel, “Past Due: An Open Discussion about Sustainability,” which highlighted steps companies can take now to create more sustainable medical devices and reduce waste.
Ronald Kurz, Sr. Director and General Manager at Canon Virginia, Kathryn Unger, Sr. Manager of Global ESG Communications at Boston Scientific, and David Ettl, Chief Operating Officer at Gradian Health System, shared steps their companies are taking to reduce equipment waste and achieve carbon neutrality, and moderated discussion with the audience.
The key question was, how can we make medical products sustainable?
In 2017, Boston Scientific committed to carbon neutrality. The key to successfully reaching sustainability goals is to tie them to company values. “Make sure your goals are value-driven, because this will bring your entire organization along,” said Unger.
One of the concerns highlighted by the panel was “equipment graveyards,” where purchased devices that quickly go unused end up. With that in mind, the panel agreed that the No.1 goal for companies is to make sure your medical devices don’t go to waste. “This requires training of providers and patients/end users, and looking at ease of use and ease of service,” said Ettl. It also requires forethought from the very beginning of the device design and development.
Engineering and Design
Kurz encouraged engineers to think about how to develop a product that can be broken into recyclable parts. “We need to develop devices that are easier to break down and easier to reuse or recycle,” he said, noting that you don’t have to wait for a new product or upgrade to make changes. “Instead of looking for the next revolutionary change or upgrade, why not look at some of our proven devices and say, ‘Can we simplify this?’ said Kurz.
Designers and engineers should also consider the end use environment. If a device is not fit for the service environment, that product will fill equipment graveyards (e.g., devices that feature 100-volt outlets that are sold to countries with different outlets). “Work with the end users to make sure the product fits the needed end specs,” said Ettl.
Designers also want to look at ease of use and whether the device is easy to service to encourage long-term use of the device. “Customer service is the bedrock of sustainability,” said Ettl.
If you are involved in launching ESG work at your company, “Find out what work has already happened at the company and remember to look at efforts that have taken place at the facility level, that is often where the work starts,” said Unger. “Set a target, communicate it companywide, and hold yourself accountable. One option is to create incentives.”
Companies can commit to green procurement by holding suppliers to specific criteria. For example, using raw materials that are sourced in a sustainable manner. “Maybe all the big companies need to come together and set a standard,” said Kurz. “Right now, we each have our own.”
To get started, “Talk to suppliers about reducing their Scope 1 and 2 emissions,” said Unger.
All panelists agreed that standardization of some aspects of medical devices could go a long way toward improving sustainability. “If every electric vehicle had a different charger or every car a different gas tank design, we’d need 15 different nozzles or outlets per filling or charging station,” said Unger. “Standardization brings down costs, reduces waste due to unused equipment and speeds adoption.”
“It also brings down healthcare delivery costs,” added Ettl.
Addressing Cost Concerns
A question that was asked by an audience member is how companies can bring stakeholders on board when sustainability costs more than current or traditional procurement or manufacturing methods. Both Unger and Kurz highlighted increased demand from stakeholders for more sustainable products. “Our stakeholders are asking about ESG plans, so we have not run into that,” said Unger. “In many ways, this is coming from customer demand, not regulatory requirements.”
In terms of patient safety vs. sustainability, “The patient must be at the center of everything we do. However, that is not an excuse to not do better with our medical device design,” said Unger. “Our customers are demanding more sustainable products, and if we don’t start now, we won’t get there, and it needs to start with design.”