Have you ever given any thought to the word “greening”? So vague, yet so powerful in its promise of a better, healthier world. Imagine if everyone around you shared a common vision for “greening” their homes and workplaces because they understood the relevance of their efforts and felt empowered with the right tools and support. In essence, “greening” can be applied widely to a multitude of initiatives that produce outcomes that are better for the environment.Other (equally vague) terms are quickly gaining traction to describe these efforts: environmental responsibility, triple bottom line, sustainability, Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), etc. Often, these terms are used interchangeably, depending upon nuances in focus.
A call to action for environmental responsibilityIn November 2009, 12 health sector organizations, along with the David Suzuki Foundation, issued a joint position statement entitled, “Toward an Environmentally Responsible Canadian Health Sector”. This statement focuses on the term “environmentally responsible” and makes a direct two-way connection between human and environmental health. In addition to stating that there are “…important health, financial and ethical reasons for adopting [greening] practices in the health sector…” and indentifying eight key best practices towards a “greener” health-care sector, the joint position statement calls to action the three major stakeholder groups influencing the delivery of health services in Canada. Taken directly from the statement, the calls to action are for: • governments and policy-makers at all levels to understand and address links between health and the environment and to incorporate these links into policy decisions through legislative and budgetary actions; • health-care organizations to pledge to minimize the negative impact of their activity on the environment and to seek solutions to existing barriers; and • individuals working in the health sector to both model and advocate for environmentally responsible approaches to delivering health care without compromising patient safety and care. The statement places an emphasis on the environment and there are many examples of hospitals that have environmental responsibility initiatives underway. The logical starting points are typically with a focus on areas where an organization can experience big cost-efficiencies with little effort. These “low-hanging fruit projects” include more efficient lighting, paper consumption reduction programs, energy-efficient building retrofits, and automation system upgrades. With these projects demonstrating bottom-line benefits, it is no wonder green teams and sustainability champions are starting to get the attention of C-suite executives.
Transitioning the effort from environmental responsibility to sustainabilityBut beyond environmental stewardship lie even greater benefits. Canadian author and leading expert on the business value of corporate sustainability strategies, Bob Willard, defines organizations undertaking such eco-efficiency measures as being at a mid-way point along a progression to sustainability. Next on that scale is integrating sustainability efforts in an organization’s business strategies. In his book, The Sustainability Advantage: Seven Business Case Benefits of a Triple Bottom Line, as well as on his website ( www.sustainability-advantage.com), Willard outlines how leading organizations can experience even greater benefits of substantial improvements in economic, environmental and social outcomes when looking beyond these often unconnected technology-based initiatives.
Transformative changeMany hospitals and organizations in other sectors are making transformative changes in how they operate. Within the retail sector, Walmart is an interesting example of what is possible by engaging their more than 100,000 suppliers of goods to their retail outlets, with their ground-breaking Sustainability Index initiative. Hospitals in the U.S. are taking aggressive approaches with goals of carbon-neutrality by 2014 (Gunderson Lutheran in La Crosse, Wisconsin). While internationally, Hamburg, Germany’s soon-to-be-built Asklepios Hospital is being envisioned from the ground up as a “Green Hospital” that is based on what they describe as a “multi-dimensional approach”, one that combines a respect for “ecology, economy and the well-being of people in a hospital”. These types of transformative changes do not happen overnight and they are highly dependent upon people’s will to change and innovate. Only when stakeholders become truly engaged in the process, are the benefits of pursuing a sustainability strategy multiplied. Getting stakeholders involved requires their commitment. Commitment to a cause results only when the groundwork has been laid to demonstrate meaning to the individuals who make up various stakeholder groups: health-care workers, contractors, suppliers, hospital security teams, facility teams, clerical staff, administration, landscape workers,….etc. Seizing the opportunity of sustainability can be achieved through a conscious effort to go beyond the obvious technology focus. Direction must be provided in clarifying the vision, demonstrating relevance to both the stakeholders’ working environment and their personal lives, and involving them in how they play unique roles in delivering the desired outcome….the long term viability of the delivery of health-care services in a rapidly changing and complex world.