There is growing awareness in the health care field that becoming a better steward of the environment is something well within the capabilities of most health caregivers. In fact, it benefits the overall mission in ways we often don’t think about. One environmental officer whose health care organization has been paying close attention to environmental sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint since the 1990s frames it this way: “It’s part of our work, not additional work.”
00;00;01;02 - 00;00;39;02
If you drew up a list of the most pressing priorities for hospitals and health systems right now, environmental sustainability probably wouldn't sit at the top. Or even the top five. Nevertheless, there is growing awareness in the health care field that becoming a better steward of the environment is something well within the capabilities of most health care givers. In fact, it benefits the overall mission in ways we often don't think about.
00;00;39;05 - 00;01;05;05
Welcome to Advancing Health, a podcast from the American Hospital Association. I'm Tom Haederle with AHA Communications. In this talk with an AHA policy expert, one environmental officer whose health care organization has been paying close attention to environmental sustainability and reducing its carbon footprint since the 1990s, frames it this way: It's part of our work, not additional work. Let's learn more.
00;01;05;07 - 00;01;20;20
Hi, my name is Mark Howell and I'm a director of Policy and Patient Safety at the AHA. As part of that portfolio, I help the AJ and its members as we take steps to become better stewards of the environment. I'm fortunate enough to be joined for a few minutes by Tony Denton to talk about the role of hospitals in this space.
00;01;20;23 - 00;01;29;22
Tony works for UM Health at the University of Michigan, where he serves as senior Vice President and Chief Environmental, Social and Governance officer. Tony, thanks for taking a few minutes of our time.
00;01;29;24 - 00;01;30;13
00;01;30;19 - 00;01;51;29
We all know hospitals and health systems have a wide array of challenges they're navigating right now, so adding environmental sustainability to the list can seem daunting. That said, much of the work hospitals can do around environmental sustainability can be beneficial to the organization and used to supplement already ongoing initiatives like engaging the workforce, taking active steps to close the health equity gap, and even generating financial savings.
00;01;52;05 - 00;02;08;13
Yet even more at its core, this work seems to link directly to the mission statements that guide our hospital and health systems. Can you explain how UM's environmental sustainability work is founded in your organization's mission and provide some insight into how the work directly supports UM's other ongoing priorities?
00;02;08;20 - 00;02;32;06
Sure. Our journey really started in the mid-nineties when we removed our incinerator with great concern about air quality and air pollution. And from there we became very committed to what we called environmental stewardship. In looking at different ways that we could uphold our principles as an organization to recycle, to reuse and reduce waste in the environment with an emphasis on landfill.
00;02;32;08 - 00;03;05;07
So for many years, we participated in efforts to recycle anything that we could recycle to make sure that it didn't wind up in the landfill. We participated with what was then health care without harm. Now practice green health to gain more knowledge, to share lessons and best practices, to reinforce our commitment to the environment. Since then, I would say over the last few years, the university has taken quite a hold on trying to reduce the carbon footprint and to address issues related to climate change.
00;03;05;15 - 00;03;32;27
And with that, UVM Health and Michigan Medicine shares that commitment. So we've gone to what I call carbon neutrality, environmental sustainability 2.0 to line up with our mission, vision and values, which for us is first, do no harm, which is our credo that we track every day in taking care of patients. We've been very intentional with our communications about the contribution that health care provides towards climate change and extreme weather events given that health care is such a high intensity, a user of energy.
00;03;33;05 - 00;03;53;21
So we've embraced what we call advancing health to serve Michigan and the world. To understand that we have to find a better balance with regards to how we manage the environment to save the planet. In addition to saving lives through the expertise of our physicians, clinicians and other health care staff.
00;03;53;23 - 00;04;14;11
Thanks, Tony. That's really fascinating and impressive. And, you know, as the AHA has really gotten involved in this work, we've been trying to work with members that are really far down their journey, right? To learn from them, to get that expertise, that experience to help our hospitals and health systems that are just starting on this journey, right? Trying to figure out what the next step or what the first step for them is.
00;04;14;14 - 00;04;30;26
Can you briefly tell us a little bit about how you amrs approaching this work? What are some of the practical things you're doing now? Obviously, an SVP that's focused on this work shows that the leadership structure is engaged, the board is engaged and they're interested. Can you tell us a little bit about some of the other work you're doing in this space?
00;04;30;26 - 00;04;39;14
And then do you have any recommendations or tips for organizations that are just getting started? How do you elevate this work? How do you really get going and get the organization behind you?
00;04;39;15 - 00;05;06;07
I think the framework starts with a consciousness as being good corporate citizens that we all have a responsibility to do whatever we can to to save the planet and we look at it as being a part of our work, not additional work. And by that I mean organizations are comprised of its people and behaviors related to practices that help to save the planet and to be environmentally responsible are habits that people can practice at home.
00;05;06;14 - 00;05;38;09
So we want people to practice safe environmental practices at home and community as well as at work. Our responsibility as an anchor institution, meaning a major provider and major employer, is to provide examples to lead the way by demonstrating what can be done, small ideas or large. I talked about recycling. We recycle materials of all kinds. In the last year, 2022, it was 1.5 million tons of different materials, from batteries to cardboard to two pallets, paper, you name it.
00;05;38;15 - 00;06;03;11
We also are looking at energy efficiencies, large investments in terms of our building construction. We're committed to lead certification, we're building a new hospital. The goal is to go to platinum. And with that it does require more resources. But we think the return on investment is significant because we'll be 20% more efficient than state standards with regards to building efficiencies, which helps to reduce the carbon footprint.
00;06;03;13 - 00;06;29;15
So I think that there are other easy examples like changing lights to LED lights from incandescent. The payback is within about two years or so to reduce the cost, which helps the operating margin, which are dollars that one can reinvest in the mission of the hospital. I think that we're finding through just creative brainstorming that there are a number of ideas that can happen with very little cost.
00;06;29;17 - 00;06;37;13
So, there's no good reason why you wouldn't do something that would be better for the environment. To help you with your economics and to be a good corporate citizen.
00;06;37;20 - 00;07;00;16
Tony, you mentioned ROI. And we get that question a lot as we're trying to to talk to our members about why you should do this. And the financial savings can be significant. I'm wondering, though, in the process of discussing our ally with your leadership, with the board, what other returns on investment are there? So is your workforce overly excited and engaged in this work?
00;07;00;16 - 00;07;08;23
How is the community responding? Are you seeing those those things that you can't quantify financially but are demonstrating a real impact locally for you?
00;07;08;29 - 00;07;29;06
I think so. When we do things that benefit the community, our organization's culture is one of engagement. And people do get excited because they see a way that they can make a difference. So there's, I think, a high sense of passion for working in an organization where they're trying to make a difference and we want people to be part of a team.
00;07;29;12 - 00;07;55;21
That means we participate at all levels and we're active and creating ideas, and we hold leadership accountable for listening to those ideas and to discussing them to help make them happen, especially if there are very few barriers to do so. I think that in the world of workforce shortages, the culture of an organization is so important and people are choosing where to work based on the values that an employer has.
00;07;55;27 - 00;08;17;19
And so that creates another value added aspect to what I call being on the right side of right when it comes to trying to save the planet, because we're trying to do that. Obviously, to have something available for future generations for all of us. So I think that there's excitement in that regard. I can't say that people are overly excited, which I think is what you said.
00;08;17;25 - 00;08;41;18
I think that, you know, there's always change and we have to explain why change is important as leaders. But at the same time, I would say that we are in receipt of a lot of advocacy from employees asking, what are we doing? And so I think that there's a marriage in thought, in mind and spirit about trying to once again make a difference because we have that responsibility to community.
00;08;41;21 - 00;08;57;17
Tony, I want to thank you so much for spending some time with us and giving us some insight into what you UM is doing here. I know that as we move forward, the American Hospital Association is going to continue to be engaged in this work. And we look forward to to looking to your leadership and your organization's leadership to take examples and really act on them.
00;08;57;17 - 00;09;03;20
So I want to thank you, and I'd like to thank the listeners for taking the time to engage in this discussion with us. See you again next time.