Responsible Team Approach to Environmental Management

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Environmental Management Team (EMT). Green Team (GT). Environmental Stewardship Committee (ESC). The names and the acronyms may be different but their raison d’être is the same regardless of whether you are setting out to address waste management or hazardous materials containment issues, energy and water consumption, the procurement of non-toxic or environmentally friendly goods or managing your facility’s fleet. The important thing to remember is that you can make a positive impact upon the environment but it will be a lot easier with the help of others, including Natural Resources Canada (NRCan).

NRCan estimates that during the past four years Canadian health-care organizations involved in NRCan’s Energy Innovators Initiative (EII) have reduced their greenhouse gas emissions by over 172,012 tonnes and saved about $37,386,454 in operating and utility costs from a combined energy budget that approaches $400M. This equates to savings of well over 2.5M Gigajoules of energy that have resulted from the estimated $150M in energy retrofit projects that facilities have undertaken – roughly enough energy savings to meet the energy needs of over 25,500 typical homes for a year. Thirty-nine such health care organizations have also taken advantage of federal incentive funding in excess of $3.9M to assist with energy audits, feasibility studies and retrofit work. In total, over 265 Canadian hospitals, health regions and long-term care facilities have pledged their support for a healthier environment and reduced GHG emissions through voluntary membership in the EII.

Hundreds, if not thousands, of people in Canadian health-care facilities have been involved to some degree in achieving these results. From the maintenance engineer who initiated the steam trap cleaning project and the secretary who closes down her computer and monitor every night before shutting off her office light to the laundry truck driver who adopted a ‘no idle’ policy long before being asked to do so. From the grounds-keeper who no longer uses hazardous pesticides on the lawn or the nurses who take it upon themselves to phone in and report the leaking taps, to the housekeeping and food services staff who take care to sort every piece of recyclable into its proper bin.

Health-care staff at all levels and in all departments are getting involved to clean up their environment and reduce operating costs. Your colleagues are taking ownership of a number of environmental problems by starting to address the issues in the workplace. Why not take advantage of the momentum and build it into a full-fledged green movement?

Start with known quantities. Look around you. No doubt a number of colleagues who have already publicly demonstrated some sense of sound environmental concern and commitment will come to mind. Perhaps they helped organize an in-house display during World Environment Day, are known for bicycling or jogging to work or have other affiliations that make it obvious they are ‘green’. Remember to include doctors and other clinical staff in your search. And don’t be afraid to start your search at the top of the org chart. Executive buy-in is imperative if your initiative is to flourish.

Ensuring also that Green Team members have the support of their managers/supervisors in order to include work on Green Team initiatives within their normal paid work time is an important issue to address at the outset.

“The success…lies in its credibility in the eyes of staff and other members of management. In the case of Brandon Regional Health Authority there was executive level buy-in from the beginning making it a high profile committee within the institution; lending both public and private support for their initiatives and affording members a sense of ownership and accomplishment. From a financial perspective, it was crucial that management be supportive otherwise funding for the many initiatives could have halted any possible progress.”
– Gordon Neal, Chief Power Engineer, Brandon RHA

In the case of Cambridge Memorial Hospital [CMH] (Cambridge ON), CEO Helen Wright was convinced that her hospital had to set a local example of judicious environmental stewardship. As such she helped raise the level of awareness of the Green Team’s activities and sanctioned the financial resources for them to succeed. Consisting of management personnel, coordinators and front line staff, the Cambridge Green Team participates in planning, prioritizing and approving environmental initiatives, delivering communication and environmental education to hospital staff. They also orchestrate such awareness-raising events as Healthy Environment – Healthy Living Day, Garbage Free Lunch Day, Green Transportation Day, etc.

The Green Team plays a key role in approving and accomplishing yearly environmental targets and objectives: reduction in biomedical waste, increase in recyclables, the initiation of a white paper recycling programme, spill response training for key Housekeeping, Stores, Maintenance and Security personnel, mercury spill response training, etc. They were also instrumental in assisting CMH in achieving recognition as the first hospital in North America to be certified ISO 14001 by the International Organization for Standardization.

Every good team deserves a good leader. Choose someone with not only the skills but also with the interest and the time to do justice to the position. In much the same way you would write a formal job description for a new position in maintenance or engineering, set out the criteria and, where practical, go through a formal hiring/appraisal process.

The successful candidate should be able to: plan and budget (remember you will need a budget to accomplish your goals and objectives), liaise with upper management including various government and regulatory bodies, chair meetings, coordinate the development and delivery of activities and training such as environmental awareness week, energy management and waste reduction workshops, seek out and build partnerships with other stakeholders and outside interests (volunteer and community service groups, suppliers, community and business leaders, media, etc.).

Remember all those ‘known quantities’ to which we referred earlier? If they can’t or won’t ‘officially’ become a member of the Team, at least keep them engaged in activities that will assist in reaching your teams overall goals. As ‘green associates’ or divisional ‘champions’ they can help in a number of important ways including:

  • Ensure that best practices in their respective work areas are exercised
  • Monitor progress of initiatives and success of the Team’s environmental programme components
  • Report success or deficiencies to Team members, supervisors, leaders, etc.
  • Share information with fellow workers and help in raising awareness of the importance of individual contributions/participation.

It is also essential to provide an open mechanism for all level of staff to express their concerns about in-house environmental issues and actions that directly impact them. They want to feel their concerns are being listened to, their feelings respected. Maybe you choose a ‘suggestion box’ or provide a Team e-mail address to facilitate communication. Perhaps you schedule dedicated time at staff meetings. Ignore these essential members of your facilities community and you risk losing credibility.

Establish a Green Team Organizational Chart clearly articulating areas of responsibility and make the chart readily available throughout the facility (bulletin boards, inter/intranet site, employee/personnel manual, etc.). Take every opportunity to publicize your Team: it’s mandates, where and when it meets, recent successes, upcoming events/activities. Encourage non-members to attend and participate. You want as many people as possible knowing of your Team’s existence, accomplishments and mandate.

Peterborough Regional Health Centre (Peterborough ON) recently commenced the exercise of forming their Green Team under the auspices of their Corporate Director of Planning and with support of the CEO. Starting with informal champions who had indicated commitment to environmental issues on a personal level, they set out to involve all departments and service units.

According to Peterborough’s Planning Consultant Jane Bremner, “We identified key stakeholders who needed to be formally involved to achieve our goals. These included representatives of housekeeping, building services, materials management, lab, pharmacy, infection control, occupational health and safety, ambulatory care and educational services.” Her next membership invitation will seek someone from clinical services to sit on the team.

In addition to addressing existing environmental issues and workplace concerns, an effective Green Team can also help set the tone and direction for new health care structures. Northumberland Health Care Centre (NHCC) has, for example, taken a very proactive approach to the construction of their new 137-bed facility in Cobourg (ON). Under the auspices of their Green Team, otherwise known as the Joint Occupational Health and Safety Committee, they are doing their best to prove just how green they can be.

“Wherever possible, environmental consideration will be given when making purchasing and operational decisions,” claims Elizabeth Vosburgh, (Director of Human Resources and Risk Management) as they strive to ensuring quality of work life is improved for staff and that patient experience is one of quality care in a safe and healthy environment.

Thanks to the involvement of the in-house ‘team’, concerned members of the community at large, staff, and the hospital architects they have developed an initiative titled “Crossing the Green Line” that articulates the hospital’s achievements in ensuring a sustainable future. In support of an ecologically safe approach to health care, the document highlights:

  • development of a policy restricting the use of pesticides;
  • enhancement & education of staff regarding recycling programmes;
  • education of staff regarding waste;
  • review and modification to the electrical system;
  • reduction of the number of chemicals used within the facility;
  • development of wellness initiatives to improve the employee quality of work life; and
  • movement toward a mercury free environment.

“With the construction of the new hospital comes our opportunity to move forward in the direction of positive change. We believe strongly that our approach is not only necessary to ensure the health of our staff and patients, but also the health of our entire community”
– Elizabeth Vosburgh, NHCC Director of Human Resources and Risk Management

New building or old, acute care site or long-term care home, a Green Team is an essential part of every responsible health-care facility. Having read this far you are now armed with the basic framework to begin work on your own brand of Green Team. Dig out those stale donuts, gather your friends and colleagues around the coffee maker and start the movement to a greener, healthier workplace and a safer and healthier environment for us all.