UW Health's Sustainability Effort Makes Progress on Earth Day

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Madison, Wisconsin - As Earth Day 2015 approaches, UW Health is stepping up efforts to reduce its environmental footprint and follow more sustainable practices.


In the process of taking care of patients, hospitals generate a large and diverse waste stream. In 2014, environmental sustainability became a part of UW Health’s mission statement and prompted several changes.

  • Replacement of plastic water bottles with boxed water in the cafeteria, vending machines and catering because boxed water has a smaller environmental footprint with better packaging materials and shipping methods.

  • Implementation of recycling rounds where availability, convenience, colors and sizes of the recycle bins are evaluated and improvements are made. Research shows successful recycling programs have appropriate infrastructure.

  • Reprocessing of single-use devices by working with a company to see what medical equipment can be sterilized, reused or recycled to divert hospital waste from the landfill.

  • Development of a blue sterile-wrap recycling program: UW Health is working with a recycler who can take this material (used to keep medical supplies sterile) and convert it into non-cosmetic automobile parts, another huge landfill diversion which does not require any additional transportation footprint (no extra trucks on the road).

  • The installation of LED tube lamps throughout hospital campus.

  • Implementation of energy conservation measures in heating, ventilating, air conditioning and lighting that will save the hospital more than $500,000 per year in energy costs.

  • Having a recycling and sustainability overview a part of new employee orientation.

  • Implementation of UW Health’s first administrative policy and computer-based training on sustainability and recycling.

  • Implementation of paper and printing standards: all network printers are set to print double-sided automatically, and all paper purchased must have recycled content.

Over the last seven years the commitment to sustainability has grown from three staffers working on recycling to a 40-member Environmental Sustainability Committee with a full-time sustainability-program coordinator. There are also 20 “green teams,” groups of employees who work together to improve sustainability at the unit, department, clinic and facility level through the organization. The committee encourages the green teams’ efforts to make sure all UW Health staff knows the latest developments.


“Environmental sustainability is in our mission statement; thus, it is a part of our decision-making process at UW Health. We are also very excited that an overview of our program is now a part of new-employee orientation,” said Shannon Bunsen, UW Health sustainability-program coordinator. 


“We realized there was this great energy around sustainability in different levels of the organization. Employees want to help and make an environmental impact,” said Bunsen. “In January 2015, our committee held its first strategic planning retreat, where we developed subcommittees with goals and action plans to really increase our efforts moving forward. Some may think sustainability is just about recycling, but our efforts go beyond that.”


About 50 to 60 percent of UW Hospital’s waste is landfilled, and 30 to 35 percent is recycled. The recycling rate is above national averages for hospitals. Practice Greenhealth, a nonprofit dedicated to best practices in healthcare communities, requires a 15 percent recycle rate for partnership and 25 percent for leadership awards. But Bunsen is just getting started.


“We are trying to send less than 50 percent of our total waste stream to the landfill. This year we have a particularly strong focus on OR and pharmaceutical waste; the OR generates a large volume of waste and pharmaceutical waste is the most expensive type of waste. We have a lot of momentum going with the green teams, and we plan to keep encouraging employees to do their part,” she said.


Employees are encouraged to get involved with simple activities: bringing a reusable water bottle to work; walking, biking, busing or carpooling whenever possible; turning off the lights when leaving a room; recycling all mixed paper, cardboard, plastics, glass and metal. They are also challenged to evaluate their work processes with a sustainability lens, to see if they can reduce waste and conserve energy and water by making simple changes.


The sustainability efforts will be showcased at the newest UW Health facility, The American Center, which will be open to patients August 17.


“We have this beautiful brand-new facility opening later this year and we want to ensure that we align our sustainability efforts there. Our immediate goal is to do all we can for our LEED certification,” said Bunsen.


The committee is writing a green-housekeeping policy to make sure environmentally friendly products are used at The American Center. Also, much of the artwork in the new hospital will be designed by local artists who use recycled materials.


Some of that artwork will be on display at the Earth Week Booth at UW Hospital on April 20-24.  The green teams are also planning a garden planting at the Lakeshore Nature Preserve.


UW Health is collaborating with other Madison hospitals to work towards best sustainability practices.

Date Published: 04/20/2015

News tag(s):  greensteps

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