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Learn From Others Along the Journey to Sustainability

Author: Terri Scannell, VHA director of corporate citizenship and sustainability

When hospitals take steps toward creating a sustainability practice within their facility they are also creating a healthier environment beyond their walls. Despite many hospitals starting their sustainability journey without a map, they are able to achieve change in their hospitals and communities.

Over the last few weeks I have been looking forward to and preparing for the CleanMed conference June 2-5. Attending an event like CleanMed with my industry peers is enriching for sustainability professionals like me. It allows us to share, learn and gather tools that make us all more effective.

A brief hallway conversation with a peer can inspire an idea to break down a barrier at their own hospital. Learning about how a distributor is using reusable totes to deliver supplies instead of cardboard might be an idea that I take back and suggest to our own distributor. 

There is no analogous practice in health care to compare sustainability to because it crosses staff, operations and extends to the community in general. And sometimes, it can feel like Groundhog Day because we’re asking people to do things differently that may initially create more work. But if sustainability professionals share one common goal, it’s that we must defy expectations.

The success stories we hear from leaders like Spectrum Health about how they publicly measure their environmental impact; from Gundersen Health System about how it will generate more energy than they consume by the end of this year; and from Providence Health Services about its investment in healthy food helps us all be more creative, impactful and believable.

Those three days while at CleanMed will definitely be work, but they will also be quality time spent with other people who totally understand and share my passion for furthering sustainability practices in healthcare. It also makes not having a map for all roads in the sustainability journey less worrying because you have a network of other professionals to help you along the way.


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