Kaiser Permanente is raising the bar for it's suppliers.
From Fast Company:

Sustainability Scorecard

We [Kaiser Permanente] evaluated the four major players and found that clinical performance and pricing were comparable, but there were big differences in terms of sustainability performance," explained Robert Gotto, the executive director in Kaiser Permanente's Procurement & Supply group. "One supplier had the foresight to develop a camera that doesn't need to be sterilized with chemicals. It uses steam instead, and can cut down chemicals in operating room by half." So the steam-sterilized endoscope provider ended up getting the five-year, $100 million contract.

Four OEMs. Each one indistinguishable from the next on the basis of cost and performance, but only one lands the $100M contract by virtue of its sustainability.

I was pumped to hear the news. Finally, a product selected on its sustainable merit. Surely this will lend credibility to the not-so-new green movement in the medical sector.

Much to my dismay, I found nothing regarding bioplastics, compostable materials, PCB reduction, or even alternative power. In fact, it seemed as though the only sustainable feature of the product was that it was able to be steam sterilized.

Steam sterilized? Well that's not terribly impressive.

Or maybe it is.

As much as sustainabiliphiles like myself tend to worship the latest widget on the front page of TreeHugger, Kaiser realizes it won't make any hay by demanding top-flight sustainable innovations from OEMs. Not yet anyway.

No, for now Kaiser has deemed it prudent to encourage device firms to test the water rather than push them into the deep end, and their Sustainability Scorecard is as simple and straightforward as you could ask for. At 13 line items deep, it's worth the 30 seconds to garner the insight into Kaiser's new strategy.

If you've got a few more minutes (or are wondering what Polybrominated Bipheyls are), check out the breakdown of some key scorecard line items.

Is it a NICU Product?
Kaiser doesn't elaborate on why it cares if it's a NICU product. However, it's a good bet that if your product is going into the NICU, the importance of sustainable, healthy materials (especially with regard to RoHS, below) will be exaggerated.

Children are generally more susceptible to certain substances (such as lead), so allowing them to exist in products used on (or in) fragile infants would likely incline Kaiser to look elsewhere.

Is it a PICU Product?

Is it Latex Free?
The CDC estimates that anywhere from 1% to 6% of the general population, and 8%-12% of healthcare workers, are sensitized to latex.

That's not news... Latex has been a touchy subject for quite a while, and most medical device companies take precautions to avoid its use wherever possible. The result is that there are whole organizations dedicated to cataloging both consumer and medical latex-free alternatives.

Is it RoHS Compliant?
Although Kaiser Permanente fails to mention the EU's RoHS regulation by name, the prohibitions listed in the Sustainability Scorecard are identical to what has been banned in Europe for years.

Like latex, there aren't any surprises here. In fact, it's likely that the last time you heard the name of any of the substances listed below, it was followed by the word "poisoning."

The following substances can exist in quantities <0.1%

The following substances can exist in quantities <0.01%

Cadmium (why it's bad)
The good news about all these restrictions? Printed circuit board manufacturers and custom polymer compounders (whose products are some of the biggest potential RoHS offenders) have been dealing with RoHS for years, and can help you with compliance.

Is it PVC + DEHP Free?
Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC) and Diethylhexyl Phthalate (DEHP) are bad news.

With countless advocacy groups sternly cautioning against the use of PVC and DEHP (DEHP is used to make PVC more flexible) in everday products like shower curtains, flooring, and credit cards, it's no surprise that Kaiser is pushing to eliminate it from products people have a much closer relationship with, such as tubing and catheters.

This concern has been around for a while as well, and though PVC-free alternatives do exist, PVC is such a great material otherwise that, although declining, use is still broad.

In any case, Kaiser has seen the danger in PVC for a while, and now they aren't buying it.

It will be interesting to see where sustainability in the medical field goes from here. My bet? It's only a matter of time before RoHS (or something similar) becomes law; and even if it doesn't, the great BPA backlash of 2008 exposed the kind of brand damage (Nalgene anybody?) that can occur when short-term thinking results in the use of controversial chemicals.

But regardless of what I think, the fact is that Kaiser Permanente wants you to be sustainable.

Right now that means complying with the Scorecard.

We should all be prepared for what it might mean tomorrow.