North Bay Business Journal: GameChangers

NorthBay Biz interviews Rob Chase to see how hospitals can move closer to sustainability by switching to products that are circularly economic.

“Sugarcane plants and operating rooms have nothing in common, and yet when Rob Chase, president and founder of NewGen Surgical in San Rafael, struck on an idea to bring them together, it was a logical pairing that had the potential to deliver benefits for generations to come. His concept was to create surgical equipment out of the plant’s fiber, which would allow hospitals to reduce their carbon footprint by using products that are healthier for the planet than those made of plastic.

The inspiration came from his 20-plus year experience working in operating-room sales, sales management, clinical education and marketing within the medical device industry and earning a sustainable practices certificate from Dominican University’s Barowsky School of Business, where he enrolled in 2010 after becoming interested in the university’s Green MBA program. “The idea came about from going back to school,” says Chase. “During that coursework, I became enlightened about pollution, particularly plastic pollution,” he explains. As he became increasingly aware of how unsustainable health care practices were, particularly in the operation room (OR) where 30 percent of all hospital waste is generated, he developed an interest in applications for surgical use.

“Much of the industry is built around single-use disposable products,” he explains, and most are made of plastic because it provides consistency of performance, guaranteed sterility and convenience—much as it does in our daily lives. Plastic, however, is petroleum-based, thus using finite resources, and it is difficult to recycle and doesn’t biodegrade for hundreds of years. As a result, it’s either incinerated or languishes in the environment for centuries, making it increasingly undesirable. “Health care is built on plastics, and I saw an opportunity to find out how to solve the problem,” says Chase. The challenge was finding ways to bring plant-based products and surgery together effectively in the unique environment of an operating room, where changes are rare. “Everything is rooted in understanding the OR and how it works, along with product and procedural knowledge.” When designing new surgical products, he adds, it’s essential to make sure there’s no change in product performance and that the products can be integrated into existing workflows.”