04/25/2016 04:27 pm ET Updated Apr 26, 2017

Can Workplace Wellness Help the Environment?

Diane Collins and Jordan Hollender via Getty Images

Healthcare in America is some of the best you can receive in the world, but the healthcare system is not without its costs. One such cost that has begun to receive added attention in recent years is the environmental footprint of the estimated 5,000 hospitals in the United States. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, these facilities produce huge volumes of waste (as much as 7,000 tons per day), and account for 8% of America's carbon emissions.

Given the rising pressure in America to make businesses more sustainable, many in the healthcare industry are looking for creative ways to operate more efficiently. Those responsible for finding solutions may have gained an unusual ally in that effort, and it comes from outside of traditional healthcare altogether. The industry is corporate health and wellness and the company is called Provata Health, the subject of a landmark, peer-reviewed study that found remarkable outcomes from a three year analysis of thousands of U.S. employees.

Oregon Health & Science University published their study in Frontiers In Public Health and their findings included: improved sleep, greater overall happiness, significantly reduced stress, substantial reductions in obesity, decreased blood pressure, and the list goes on. Provata Health CEO Alex Goldberg said in a statement, "We have never seen a health promotion program publish durable health benefits this significant and this extensive."

The study's findings are powerful for a number of reasons. Chronic diseases account for hundreds of billions of dollars in healthcare expenditures every year. These diseases can be avoided or substantially mitigated by healthy living. Given the fact that a huge portion of the U.S. population spends 40 plus hours per week in an office, which are notoriously bad for personal health, Provata Health's breakthrough could be a major asset in the fight to reduce chronic diseases and their tangential impact on the environment.

"Our physician's peer-reviewed studies looked at the economic impact of our wellness model on worker compensation claims and found a 10 to 1 return on investment. For every $100 spent on our program, $1,000 was saved in worker compensation claims," says Goldberg.

Those numbers tell a powerful story. It is a hopeful narrative that contrasts sharply with what most of us see in offices around the country where depression, obesity, and stress cause hard working people to take extended leaves of absence and seek medical help. Chronic diseases stemming from poor health management is a silent epidemic in America and it is a trend that is on the rise.

There is an opportunity to connect the dots if we are willing to do so. The intertwined nature of our world often means that solutions lie far from the visible problem. If the problem is the enormous environmental impact caused by our healthcare system, we need to look for solutions more creative than slapping solar panels on hospitals and adding more recycling cans in the hallways. If the problem is an epidemic of chronic diseases, the solution may not be to expand our healthcare system to treat it.

As Goldberg puts it, "Just telling employees what's wrong with them and giving them some websites to visit and phone numbers for more information just doesn't cut it."

That is why Provata is tackling the problem of workplace wellness with a pioneering program that leverages the advantages of being in an office. "Working with our colleagues to achieve our personal health goals gives us a foundation of support and mutual accountability to create long-term behavior changes," says Goldberg.

"Each of our programs follows a scientifically-designed scope and sequence that covers a wide range of health topics like nutrition, stress, physical activity, sleep, blood pressure, etc. We achieve better outcomes through a holistic approach that addresses these inter-related components of our health."

Given America's aging population, the epidemic of chronic diseases, and the relatively poor health of young people today, it is hard to find a demographic that is not burdening our healthcare system. That burden is taxing our environment, which in turn affects our own health, and the vicious cycle continues. It is necessary as a society to pursue creative solutions that address numerous issues at once. Beginning with wellness is a logical place to start.