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Engaging Leadership

Most facilities start off their environmental stewardship activities as a grass roots effort, with passionate departments and individuals taking the lead on initiatives such as paper or beverage container recycling in office areas, medical equipment and furniture donation to missions, food donation and grease recycling in Food Services or energy awareness campaigns. Eventually, organizations realize the limits of a grass roots effort and recognize that in order to make more substantive progress in this arena, leadership must be on board. It is at this point that the organization must consider how to engage leadership and make the case for the integration of sustainability into the culture of the organization, with the aim of realizing the benefits of both a top down and a bottom up approach.

How does one engage leadership around these issues?

It can be daunting to reach out to leadership and suggest they take on something new or add to their busy agenda.  How will the request be received? How does one prepare for this “ask” so it is best received? There are several strategies that can assist leadership in understanding the strategic value of supporting sustainability organization-wide.

Document Success Stories

Demonstrate the value green initiatives are already bringing to the organization. Document existing environmental successes and highlight their positive outcomes. If all of this information is not yet captured, it may involve a fact-finding mission. Schedule appointments with other individuals across the organization that may have had some successes relative to green program implementation. Departments could include Engineering and Facilities, Environmental Services, Purchasing, the OR, Lab, and Food Services , to name a few.  Practice Greenhealth’s Eco-Checklist tool is one mechanism that can be utilized to get a snapshot of existing green programs across the organization. Through informal and formal conversations with those responsible for grassroots efforts, develop a list of programs the organization already has in place and highlight the benefits. It may be useful to develop a short template that be used to outline each initiative and its corresponding positive outcomes—from a financial perspective, as well as an environmental or safety perspective.  The compilation of success stories, identification of any awards, certificates, research or other accolades will provide useful documentation for leadership to review.

Highlight the Competitive Landscape

Different leaders respond to different drivers. Some are visionaries and like to be the first out of the gates to try a new strategy or program. Others are more comfortable knowing the program or strategy has been well-vetted and is fairly mainstream before jumping on board. Yet for senior leadership, one question remains fairly consistent: What are my competitors doing on this front?

Helping leadership understand how other healthcare organizations in the community or region are addressing (or not addressing) this issue can be very helpful. A thoughtful analysis on this front can help the executive team understand if they are playing catch-up, and are at risk of being seen as a laggard on this issue or whether there might be an opportunity to take a leadership role in the community by actively marketing their commitment to environmental sustainability and community health. Other key factors to draw to their attention in this analysis may include community attention to sustainability issues—new environmental regulations coming down the pike that may impact healthcare facilities or a community focus on climate change or reducing energy use. The local factors may also help the organization’s leadership team think about how they could strategically position a sustainability program within the community context.

Build a Champion Team

Depending on the organization's hierarchy, it may be prudent to take a baby step and request a sit down with a lead on Operations, a Nursing Officer or other departmental leader.This conversation may lead to the opportunity to present the case for sustainability to a strategic committee like a Joint Commission Environment of Care Committee or a Quality Committee or a Department Head Committee.  It may also lead to a team approach to sitting down with leadership.  Helping individuals in other leadership roles (beyond the C-Suite) understand how sustainability can add value will be helpful over the long term and may provide significant benefit in the short term by creating additional champions for the work. Share achievements to date and address questions or concerns that might arise as part of these conversations. Often these individuals may highlight critical questions that can guide future conversations with leadership. Key individuals to target might include (but is not necessarily be limited to) a Medical or Nursing Director, Vice President of Operations, Support Services or Facilities. There is no right or wrong way, yet building a team of supportive individuals in key managerial or leadership roles can only assist in gaining top leadership support.

Connect the Dots

In addition to compiling data and case studies of green success stories, capture research and evidence of environmental sustainability and its connection to quality care.  Help leadership understand the synergies between sustainability and many of the other programs the organization prioritizes, such as Community Benefit, Quality Improvement and meeting Joint Commission requirements. The evidence is compelling – there is a connection between the health of the planet and human health. The Hippocratic Oath, to “first, do no harm” can help to drive a top down approach to environmental stewardship.There is also a growing body of evidence that sustainability programs can be a factor in recruiting and retaining staff. Administrators at organizations with a strong program in place have also noted a connection to employee engagement and satisfaction.  Helping leadership see how sustainability can benefit existing initiatives can also demonstrate that this is not so much about creating a new priority but about strengthening the organization as a whole.

Staffing

While there is an emerging position of a Sustainability Officer at many healthcare organizations committed to this work, most facilities that transition from a grass roots effort to a top down approach have a period where there is buy-in and commitment but no one formally identified as the lead.  Be patient and learn more about Making the Business Case for a Sustainability Officer. In presenting to leadership initially, it may make sense to sketch out multiple models for getting this work done--including having some time allocated to sustainability management as part of an existing role, a team approach or a shared responsiblity among department heads. Some facilities have also utilized graduate level interns (who are often low-cost or no-cost) to help support the program initially.

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