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Building the Sustainability Team


Check out this Standard of Work for Developing a Team and chart sharing details of committee structure from several member facilities.

  1. Strategy. Engrain corporate social responsibility into big picture thinking and discussions around strategy and priorities.  Decide if environmental stewardship is of core importance to the organization.  Discuss whether “going green” is a fad or if it is becoming part of the culture of the organization, to help make it more a part of the culture, connect to mission, vision, goals and core values.
  2. Identify Lead on Sustainability. While it may take some time to develop the business case for hiring a sustainability director, identifying a lead is critical for a coordinated approach.  This person may have other duties, as well, and as the outcomes are measured, they can be used to build the case for a stand-alone lead.  Hospitals that are serious about environmental stewardship are identifying directors of sustainability, realizing the amount of coordination and project management expertise needed, and the already overfilled plates of existing staff. Existing sustainability coordinators demonstrate and justify their salaries many times over. Example: Numerous facilities have formal job descriptions, even if the activities fall within an existing position.  Increasingly sustainability budgets include association memberships, training and innovations. Spectrum Health in Michigan has developed an energy fund to support capital improvements which result in reduced operational costs.  
  3. Roles and Responsibilities. Specific roles may need to be articulated around sustainability from the top, especially where there was no role previously.  Sometimes, key positions can hold back progress when the individual is challenged by changing their role in the organization.  Critical positions like environmental services, construction and purchasing, to name a few, require active participation.  Very often, even when leadership is “onboard,” some key individuals may not be “with the program” and can inadvertently obstruct those trying to coordinate activities.  Identify internal experts, especially for system approaches where expertise can be very helpful for other hospitals within the same system.  Keep a watchful eye to identify problem areas and address them through consult or staff changes.  Some of these obstacles could be addressed by leadership, rather than the sustainability lead. Example: Pharmaceutical waste management is getting a lot of attention due to increased science around hazards associated with pharmaceuticals and drinking water and increased scrutiny from regulators and the Joint Commission.  Proper management of pharmaceuticals requires a team approach from individuals involved with pharmacy, nursing, environmental health and safety and environmental services, to name a few.  Many hospitals have reported that pharmacy does not see their role in managing “waste.”  This may be true historically, but no one has better knowledge around pharmaceuticals than pharmacy personnel and their input will make or break the success of the program. Those facilities where Pharmacy is taking a leadership role in developing a pharmaceutical waste program have stronger programming and realize their important role in this complex initiative.
  4. Consider Direct Reporting to COO.Sustainability initiatives require input and participation in everything from what is purchased, invested, developed, constructed, served, used, poured, treated, spilled, vacuumed, wiped, processed and removed!  The COO clearly is not to be weighted with these details.  However, reporting to someone who oversees EVERYTHING ensures total cost management, total quality management and big picture thinking. Due to the complexity of the activities and the need to engage with various activities, this positive, efficient force should be positioned in a manner where they can reduce barriers and obstacles. Example: Cleveland Clinic created the Office of a Healthy Environment and the Sr. Director of Sustainability and Environmental Strategy reports directly to the COO.
  5. Green Team and Other Committee Structure. A clear mapping out of committee structure, participants and a standardized methodology for tracking performance helps to create a firm foundation for sustainability activities.  Dotted lines to other committees help manage various activities and ensure efficiency and clear communication. Example: Spectrum Health has a Green Team at each site and several committees that are system wide.  The oversight committee captures the site-specific activities and helps drive system initiatives and big thinking around energy funding and goal setting.  Each committee is required to have two goals with measurable outcomes and ongoing reporting to the oversight committee.
  6. Accountability. To help the commitment cascade from leadership through the mid level and to the supervisory level, leaders can create specific objectives with measurable results around sustainability for individual work plans.  When the sustainability outcomes are clearly articulated in work objectives, this celebrates and recognizes the individual’s engagement in the program.  Sustainability goals can be identified for each department or function.  Job descriptions can add language to existing roles and responsibilities around participation in sustainability activities. Example: Bon Secours Health System helps prioritize sustainability activities by adding objectives and measurable outcomes to leadership staff around sustainability goals like energy or waste targets.  Generally, each staff has five to eight annual performance objectives around quality or customer service, special projects or ecology. For energy goals, the team developed 30 no cost/low cost energy conservation strategies and the toolkit to assist the sites with implementation. They also identified Energy Star as their partner for energy performance reporting and tracking.  The measurable objective then was for each site to become an Energy Star Partner and to implement 50 percent (minimum) or 70 percent (target) of the 30 no cost/low cost measures for improved energy performance at each facility within a designated timeframe

[i]The Baldrige Program, Reviewed on website on March 28, 2011 from

This document was co developed by Janet Howard, Director, Member Engagement and Josh Miller, former Sustainability Manager, Spectrum Health. Thank you to the PGH members who were cited as examples and for all feedback on this document.

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