Little did we realize what we were about to set in motion. The year was 2008 and then chaplain, Lynn Baker, and I were sitting at her dining room table and sharing our hopes and dreams for Community Medical Centers (CMC). Despite our different professions, we shared a common interest in raising awareness of the connections between human and environmental health. We both firmly believed that you can’t have healthy people on a sick planet.
So we imagined an organization where environmental stewardship was incorporated into every aspect of its operation. We wanted a workplace where recycling was easy and expected. Since we both sometimes rode our bikes to work, we wanted to have secure places to park them. In the cafeteria, we envisioned more vegetarian options for those who didn’t eat meat. Most important, we wanted there to be a way for employees to share their “green” ideas with each other and to be able to work together to make them a reality. To begin this process, we wanted Community Regional Medical Center (CRMC) to have a “green” team.
Green team endorsed from the top
Lynn and I decided to take our idea straight to the top. We wrote a letter to Community’s CEO, Tim Joslin, and spelled out our concerns and our proposal. Much to our delight, he supported the idea and was instrumental in creating the CRMC Green Team.
In the ensuing four years, the Green Team purchased new recycling bins and developed a set of Green Guidelines. We had conversations with CRMC Nutrition and Dining Services which led to the elimination of polystyrene clamshells and cups. We began hosting Earth Day and Food Day events which featured environmentally-themed displays, food samples, games and farmers markets. We also developed a very basic Waste Stream Report that included three items: recyclables, paper waste and confidential paper. [See at the right what it’s become today!]
Several Green Team members noticed a glass-enclosed empty space next to CRMC’s cafeteria patio and got permission to turn it into an urban garden. Employees from throughout the hospital worked together to build the beds and haul in dirt to create and maintain the garden. For years it displayed ways to grow flowers and produce in a small space. Its colorful bounty was often given to Terry’s House. Employees and visitors frequently stopped by the window to take in the peaceful scene and enjoy the beauty of whatever was growing at the time.
Sustainability makes financial sense too
By 2014, as our initiatives were gaining wider interest and attention, we felt it was time to share our idea with the whole organization. Once again, we went straight to the top and once again we were not disappointed! At an employee forum hosted by Mr. Joslin, we asked if the CRMC Green Team could become a corporate-wide committee. He immediately said “yes”, as long as one of the top leaders would champion the effort. Wanda Holderman, then CEO of Fresno Heart & Surgical Hospital, stepped up and, all of a sudden, things took off! She recruited new people from all three hospitals and several outpatient facilities and the emphasis became on how being greener could also save money and create efficiencies.
In no time, the Sustainability Value Analysis Team was overseeing a wide range of site-specific and corporate initiatives. CRMC began using recycled water to clean its sidewalks and building walls. The operating room at Clovis Community Medical Center converted to specialized equipment that ran on electricity, thereby eliminating the need for and disposal of batteries. The Café at Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital replaced all its polystyrene cups and plates with paper and compostable alternatives. Our Recycle Write initiative involved collecting empty pens to be recycled and donating the proceeds to Terry’s House.
We also gathered and shared information about “green” practices and products that already were in use at our facilities. These included the electric vehicle (EV) charging stations that CMC installed for its employees. A safe bike storage area was built at CRMC. We learned that Clovis Community uses recycled water to irrigate its landscaping. The sterile processing department at Community Regional Medical Center purchased new sterilizers and washers that are saving almost a million gallons of water each year. Fresno Heart and Surgical Hospital is in the process of retrofitting hand washing sinks with automatic shut-off faucets. CMC’s Information Services Department participates in a cell phone recycling program. Solar arrays and LED lighting projects are on the drawing boards.
The minimal Waste Stream Report has expanded into a Sustainability Report which now includes fourteen items. In the future, it may also track energy and water savings and/or carbon emissions reductions. In fiscal year 2016-17, the report reveals that CMC diverted over a million pounds of waste from the landfill.
Our cleaner, greener planet message is shared with the public
The Sustainability Team has enjoyed sharing new ideas with CMC employees and the public at its popular Earth Day and Food Day events. Colorful displays explained how to protect bees, how much sugar is in sweetened beverages, why plastic is a problem for marine life and how to prepare healthy Halloween treats. We gave away vegetarian food samples, coffee grounds for use in the garden, reusable grocery bags and pens made from plastic bottles. One year we invited employees to bring their used mugs, books, toys or houseplants to exchange for items that were “new” to them. Last year, we collected gently used clothing for our emergency room patients.
We have also reached out to the wider community. We’ve shared our progress in our “Your Community at Work” publication annually. Sustainability Team member Eliana Troncale, CRMC’s Injury Prevention Specialist, serves as liaison to the City of Fresno’s Bicycle Pedestrian Advisory Committee. She has worked with the BPAC to develop campaigns to make our streets and sidewalks safer and promote active transportation. We have had displays at city-wide Earth Day events to tell the community about our sustainability initiatives. We invited guest speakers to our meetings to inform us about interesting products and practices. The airport manager for the Fresno Yosemite Airport recently described the huge solar farm that supplies almost 80% of the airport’s energy.
Connie Young helped start the Green Team and was the Sustainability Value Analysis Team’s coordinator for the past 3 years after retiring from a nursing career at Community Medical Centers.
We’ve even taken a global perspective as we’ve learned about climate change and the role we can play in reversing it. In addition to learning about ways to reduce our carbon emissions as an organization and as individuals, we are considering how best to share what we’re learning with other healthcare professionals and with the public.
As I reflect on the last nine years, I’m reminded of Margaret Mead’s famous quote, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.” I believe that CMC’s Sustainability Team is having a positive effect our employees, our organization, our community and…yes…maybe even our world!
If you interested in learning about sustainability initiatives and becoming a Green Champion, contact Rhonda Hightower at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by Connie Young, RN
Outgoing Project Coordinator for Community’s Sustainability Value Analysis Team