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Envisioning an ‘Udderly Green’ future for health care landscapes

What began as an employee engagement campaign at Gundersen Health System blossomed into a project aimed at inspiring health care landscapers across the country.

Gundersen Envision, a subsidiary of Gundersen Health System, developed Udderly Green organic soil amendment products in collaboration with Purple Cow Organics.

The venture is rooted in Gundersen Envision’s dairy digester biogas renewable energy project in Middleton, Wis., one of the health care system’s many clean energy projects.

Planting a seed

Several years ago, Gundersen Health System and Dane County in Wisconsin partnered with three farm families to create renewable energy using manure from more than 3,000 cows. Waste from the animals and other organic feedstocks are processed in Middleton in three airtight digester tanks, which are heated to 100 degrees, about the same temperature as a cow’s stomach. The methane created during the digestion process is captured at the top of the digester and combusted in two generators on site to create electricity. The electricity is then added to the local grid in Dane County through Madison Gas and Electric, while the digested solids are composted to create an organic, fibrous byproduct with many horticultural uses, which inspired Udderly Green.

Prior to the development of the Udderly Green brand, Purple Cow Organics composted the fibrous byproduct on site for use in several of its soil amendment products. After many brainstorming sessions at Gundersen about how to better engage employees in its sustainability program, Gundersen decided to make compost and potting soil products made with the fibrous byproduct available to employees. Doing so also promoted employee health and wellness through gardening and planting activities. (Bagging and distribution is managed by Purple Cow Organics.)

Watching it grow

The Udderly Green brand, which recently won the 2017 sustainable product of the year award from the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, includes compost, liquid compost extract, potting soil, raised bed mix and all-purpose fertilizer. Except for the fertilizer, these products contain the fibrous byproduct from Gundersen’s digester site. The items also are organic and considered safe alternatives to fossil fuel-derived synthetic products.

Gundersen uses Udderly Green compost to revive salt-damaged areas after winter and plant rooftop gardens on its campuses in the spring and summer. The inpatient rehabilitation staff uses the products for planting projects with long-stay patients.

Other health care organizations can now buy the products, thanks to collaboration between Gundersen and Greenhealth Exchange, a purchasing cooperative created by Practice Greenhealth, Health Care Without Harm and other health care institutions. Orders can be placed through Purple Cow Organics.

While Gundersen hopes to see more health care organizations utilize Udderly Green products, they also want more employees and local businesses to begin to create a healthier environment by using them. Gundersen is committed to improving the health of the communities it serves, and looking at their landscaping practices is just one more way the organization can better the environment for its patients, visitors, and employees.

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