Sustainability, It’s a Trip!

Published on : June 22, 2010

Sustainability, It’s a Trip!

Sustainability, It’s a Trip!

So your organization hasn’t begun its sustainable journey? Improved community health, patient care outcomes, and financial strength of your business are waiting, but it can’t happen without an organization-wide commitment to “going green,” combined with research and analysis, benchmarking, measuring results, and staff education.

Though, often an organization’s sustainability effort can begin with easier achievements, like recycling, it is vastly broader than that. Sustainable practices include:

  • Reducing all forms of waste and dependency on resources through value analysis and staff education.
  • Reducing utilities usage through energy-efficient programs and equipment.
  • Reducing supply chain costs through logistics management and life-cycle costing of materials and equipment.
  • Minimizing the use of chemicals through the use of green products whenever possible.
  • Creating an efficient work force through productivity evaluation and production improvement.
  • Managing and reducing expenses to maintain financial sustainability.

Organizational commitment

Implementing sustainable practices requires organizational commitment at a high level. Support and buy-in from various departments are crucial to the success of any sustainability program. A health organization’s “green team” would include representation from facilities, environmental services, biomedical, financial, administrative, lab, nursing services, dietary services, materials management, pharmacy, marketing, and human resources.

Start by benchmarking

A cardinal rule of management is, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” To identify opportunities for environmental improvement, begin by benchmarking many areas, such as waste, utilities use, and business performance. Compare results against those of similar organizations through self-developed benchmarking practices, as well as by using recognized sources of good benchmarking data such as IFMA , ASHE , Practice GreenHealth , VHA/Novation , and the EPA’s Energy Star .

In some instances, the benchmarking findings can point to weaknesses, such as previously undiscovered opportunities to improve business performance while minimizing the environmental impact of healthcare. More importantly, the findings can tell you what is happening to the organization’s environment—and the bottom line—by doing nothing. Always benchmark with the business’s financial matrix’s in mind.

Set goals and measure results

Always measure your results; they will tell you the story of your successes and establish your credibility. Measure goals in three ways: Cost, input/outputs, and carbon reduction. While measurement in the traditional language of the Facility Manager remains important, it is even far more important to translate these into business terms your C-Suite understands.

Sustainability extends to enhancing work productivity and eliminating inefficiencies in work processes. Involving employees in studying and improving processes will give them a deeper appreciation of their contributions. Allow various departments to develop individual goals that also support sustainability.

For example, in an analysis of waste and resource usage, the surgical services department found that it was typically using only three or four surgical sponges from each standardized bag of seven sponges. Switching to bags of four sponges had both environmental and financial benefits. They reduced not only the solid waste stream, but also the company’s supply costs were reduced.

Ultimately, the savings to an organization through employee-generated sustainability efforts will also come from increased productivity, a happier workforce, and money saved later by avoiding additional hiring.

Staff education

A key strategy is educating your workforce about how they are connected to the environment. For example, inefficient utilities drive up the need for more coal to be burned at power plants, creating more acid rain. Often people do not connect with things they are not directly affected by on a day to day basis.

Many people aren’t used to thinking of the impact of their actions on the environment. Use your company’s printed and online publications to educate your employees, communicate your environmental program goals, and keep them apprised of the programs’ success.

Financial impact

In some cases, the financial impact of sustainability efforts can be immediate and substantial. For example, an organization began planning for a major expansion project within its facilities department to support added patient care programs. Initial estimates of the project were in the range of $3 to $5 million. The cost seemed prohibitive—until they implemented cost-saving measures in other areas to offset the expense. Through a more sustainable design and reduced demand, they were able to increase efficiency and omit the need for a plant expansion.

Note, however, that savings from sustainable programs need to be viewed holistically. Rather than immediate cost savings, a shift in the allocation of business expenses may occur over time. Switching to “green” cleaning products may at times initially cost more on the supply side. However, when the costs of hazardous materials management and employee health were added into the equation, green products were far cheaper than standard cleaning products. Thus, a change, if cost allocation occurs.

A broader transformation

A commitment to sustainable environmental programs must be embedded in the organization’s core values. But achieving environmental goals can reach beyond your facility. Many have found that over time, in meeting their organization’s sustainability goals, companies are influencing suppliers and business partners to reduce their impact on the environment as well. Foremost, improving the lives of patients while in the hospital and at home.

Examples of “going green”

Minimizing the use of chemicals. “Don’t dust with dynamite.” Not all cleaning tasks require the most powerful chemicals; if a sink is wiped each day, there is no need to use a caustic lime remover.

Going mercury-free. Mercury can impair human health even at very low levels of exposure, and health care facilities can be major contributors to mercury air emissions. We have made efforts to eliminate mercury from our health care system whenever possible.

Waste reduction.

Reducing pollution. Look for materials that are lower-polluting (e.g., Marmoleum, in place of standard linoleum).

About the author and Ridgeview Medical Center:

Todd Wilkening, Director of Facilities has more than 25 years of experience in healthcare facilities management and the facility director at Ridgeview Medical Center, Waconia, Minnesota while leading Ridgeview’s Green Team. He is currently the VP of Research for the International Facility Managers Association Health Care Council (IFMA-HCC). Ridgeview Medical Center is a 4 time winner of the Practice Green Health Environmental Leadership Award,  has received the Minnesota Governor’s award for Pollution and Waste Reduction, and is amongst the nation’s top for Patient Safety Excellences, according to HealthGrades.




IFMA is the world’s largest and most widely recognized international association for professional facility managers, supporting more than 19,000 members in 78 countries.

2 ASHE is dedicated to optimizing the healthcare physical environment.

3 Practice GreenHealth is the source for environmental solutions for the healthcare sector and lends support to create better, safer, greener workplaces and communities

4 Novation acts as the supply contracting company for nearly 25,000 VHA and UHC member organizations to help them manage and reduce supply costs.

5 ENERGY STAR is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy helping us all save money and protect the environment through energy efficient products and practices.