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Setting Sustainability Goals

Sustainability Goal Setting 101

When it comes to setting goals for environmental improvement activities, it is critical to find the right pace for the organization. There is no final destination with sustainability work. It’s a work in progress with continuously evolving endpoints for the sector's best performers and a changing landscape as the Green Team or sustainability leader continuously identifies opportunities for increased relationships, connection to communities and to patients and staff. It is important to think strategically about timing for different goals--taking into account the changing culture of the organization or the level of leadership engagement, for example. Think carefully about what goals are achievable, given the organization's current resources--whether that be financial, staff time,technical knowledge or even clinical or infection control challenges. And different kinds of goals may make sense in the beginning of an organization's sustainability journey versus further down the road.

Understand Organization-Specific Drivers

As referenced above, each healthcare organization's goal setting process will be influenced different and site-specific drivers. As described in the Baseline Development section--quantitative sustainability data, benchmark comparison and gap analysis will play a key role in identification of strategic sustainability goals for the organization. Other organization-specific drivers to be considered include:

  • Financial considerations/cost-savings
  • High visibility
  • Short time to implementation
  • Low-hanging fruit/easy wins
  • Regulatory considerations
  • Staff satisfaction
  • Worker safety concerns
  • Degree of clinical interface required
  • Amount of technical knowledge required
  • Enhanced operational efficiencies
  • Community engagement/health
  • Branding/reputation


All organizational or departmental sustainability goals should meet the following three criteria. Goals need to be measurable, so that organization will know when it has succeeded. This means establishing either a qualitative or a quantiative metric by which the project will be measured. Someone needs to be accountable for delivering the goal. Even if done through a collaborative effort with multiple players, someone needs to own the project and be responsible for its delivery. This includes a responsibility to report progress on deliverables back to a Green Team, committee or executive leadership. Lastly, goals need to be strategic to the organization, ideally fitting in with its existing or emerging strategic plan.

When setting goals, ensure there is a responsible party, a timeline in place including a set of sequential project deadlines, a measurable metric and a structure for reporting.  Some hospitals may consider adding the goal as a performance indicator to the responsible lead's work plan—though leadership should consider the dependent variables in play before hanging sole responsibility around one individual's neck, especially if job security is a factor. 

Sample Sustainability Goals

Listen to a January 4, 2016 archived presentation by Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center on setting 2020 Environmental Stewardship goals.  This includes a visual presentation and committee structure.

Supporting Documents

Following are a selection of sustainability goals selected by Practice Greenhealth members--to be achieved over a one-year period.

  1. Increase recycling from 8% to 15% of total waste.
  2. Develop and approve a mercury-free purchasing policy.
  3. Sign the Healthy Food in Healthcare pledge.
  4. Decrease RMW from 28% to 20% of total waste.
  5. Increase Energy Star score by 10 points.
  6. Decrease water usage by 5%.
  7. Implement a food waste composting program that diverts at least 25% of the organization's food waste.
  8. Switch to non-PVC/non-DEHP intravenous administration sets in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU).
  9. Implement an overnight HVAC setback program for unoccupied operating rooms.
  10. Develop a regulatory-compliant pharmaceutical management program.

Whether the goal is focused on cost-cutting, staff satisfaction, easy achievability or regulatory concerns--all things are possible when paired with a good implementation strategy based on existing best practices, a finite timeline and allocation of appropriate resources to support the implementation. Practice Greenhealth members can contact Facility Engagement for additional support on identifying facility-specific goals.

The American Hospital Association's Sustainability RoadMap also provides some guidance on goal setting, framed in its Performance Improvement Measures (PIMs) for different sustainability categories.

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