Building Sustainability Teams

Implementing sustainability initiatives requires participation from individuals and departments throughout an organization, from senior leadership to front-line workers. Like any organization-wide effort, successful sustainability programs require skilled, accountable staff; adequate resources to meet organizational goals; and a clear understanding of roles and responsibilities across the organization.

Often, responsibilities for sustainability programs are decentralized, which makes successful implementation of institutional goals and action plans a challenge. This section of the Roadmap website suggests various methods for creating committees or teams, but the main objective of each approach is to create a framework that brings together decision-makers and those who implement their decisions in order to effect change.

The distinct layers of leadership found in highly functioning sustainability programs are briefly outlined below, diagramed in the accompanying figure, and described in greater detail on other pages of this website.

  1. Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC): This group comprises representatives of an organization’s senior leadership who have the authority to approve high-level institutional initiatives and allocate financial resources to those commitments.
  2. Sustainability Committee/Green Team (Ecology or Environmental Committee): A green team is sometimes broken up into subcommittees on energy, water, waste, and purchasing. These committees consist of director-level representatives from departments responsible for implementing various sustainability programs and then operating them day-to-day.
  3. Value Analysis Committee: This team is commonly found on supply chain organizational charts. It provides a systematic approach to the selection of products and services purchased, addressing any number of supply chain performance issues (e.g., cost, utilization, effectiveness, new technologies, operations, etc.). Adding sustainability critieria to the selection of products and services is an easy way to integrate basic EPP (environmentally preferable purchasing) principles and should be part of every value analysis team process.
  4. Departmental Sustainability Coordinators: These department-level coordinators or champions have limited communication and implementation responsibilities within the department.

The purpose of this Web page is to provide a step-by-step guide to setting up one or more committees or teams. The ideas described here can be used for program implementation or in designing a program. Choose the framework that will work best for your facility. In addition, the titles used here are just suggestions; the title of your group(s) should reflect the culture of your facility.

Organizational Chart

A note on recruiting staff: Unless responsibility for environmental programs is someone’s full-time job, most participants on these committees serve on a ”volunteer“ basis. For the most successful committees, it’s important to find a balance between staff who must participate versus those concerned and motivated staff members who want to participate. For example, it is strongly recommended that the director of environmental services participate on your green team, but that person may not be the biggest advocate of the team’s efforts. Find and recruit advocates. Key clinical professionals, both doctors and nurses, are always important members of the team.

Sustainability Leadership Council (SLC)

The ELC is charged with high-level decision-making. An example of the group’s purview is approving capital investment for an energy systems upgrade, a new waste management system, or a water conservation effort. Because this council is responsible for long-term planning rather than daily oversight, it may need to meet only once per quarter.


  1. Institutionalize commitment to sustainability by gaining support from the top,
  2. Assess potential sustainability initiatives and related costs
  3. Authorize and support major sustainability initiatives that require leadership commitment

Suggested Participants for SLC

  • Chief operating officer
  • Chief financial officer
  • Chief medical officer
  • Vice president, nursing
  • Vice president, support services (may include environmental services, safety, facilities, and purchasing)
  • Environmental program leaders

Suggested SLC Responsibilities

  1. Create a statement of sustainability principles.A health system or facility can adopt such a document to help institutionalize core commitments to sustainability programs. Once such a statement has been adopted, share it with your staff and community and use it to help move programs forward. (See links on the Roadmap Strategies Leadership page for sample statements.)
  2. Prioritize high-level facility goals and action plans. Energy projects, for example, often require decisions about significant financial investments. An engaged SLC can help move these projects along.
  3. Support sustainability efforts as a Joint Commission Environment of Care performance improvement activity.
  4. Support community outreach efforts that promote sustainability. Provide support for environmental health programs led by clinical staff, and conduct community outreach on important issues such as mercury mitigation, toxicity reduction, environmental health, etc.
  5. Develop a strategy for communicating your facility's sustainability activities.
    • Market the fact that your hospital is environmentally friendly.
    • Make sustainability a part of the facility's mission.
    • Work with public affairs to maximize leadership commitment to sustainability.
  6. Meet quarterly. The SLC should be a highly functioning group of decision-makers. Meetings should be about more than a routine reporting of all the good things going on. For example, standing agenda items could include progress and challenges since the last meeting as well as emerging opportunities to consider. One way to help representatives find the time to attend is to provide a meal during the meeting.

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Sustainability Committee/Green Team

This group may be responsible for any number of sustainability projects and for reporting progress to the SLC. Individual projects may be carried out by subcommittees that focus on particular departments (lab, operating room, pharmacy, purchasing) or building systems (HVAC, plumbing, electrical, etc.).


  1. Develop, implement, and manage operational infrastructure for sustainability programs and practices
  2. Coordinate staff education on methods, strategies, and action plans intended to specifically decrease medical waste, recycle appropriate products, reduce energy, and use source reduction techniques in individual departments and throughout the facility
  3. Monitor and measure programs and initiate alternatives to existing practices that will positively affect the environment as well as the finances of the hospital
  4. Collect, measure, and report on the facility’s environmental performance so that data can be used to prioritize goals and action plans
  5. Oversee public relations and communications efforts; apply for awards

Suggested Participants for Green Teams. The director or other high-level staff member of the following departments should serve on the green team:

  • Environmental services (including key waste handlers and supervisors)
  • Safety
  • Facilities
  • Nursing and medical staff
  • Infection control
  • Purchasing/materials management
  • Radiology
  • Laboratory
  • Staff from other key clinical departments
  • Ad-hoc members, as needed

Sustainability subcommittees can also be created on a departmental level when the determination and development of specific action plans are relevant and applicable to their setting:

  • An energy council might include parties related to all elements of a facility's energy systems. Ad hoc members may include representatives whose areas would be affected by the energy performance improvement measure (e.g., OR staff for LED lighting upgrades in the operating room).
  • An operating room green team might include representatives from surgical services, OR purchasing, or radiology departments.
  • A pollution prevention green team focused on the reduction of hazardous chemicals could include participants from throughout the laboratory and/or pharmacy.

Suggested Green Team Responsibilities

  1. Centralize the measurement, data collection, and reporting of environmental data.
  2. Prioritize facility goals and action plans, including:
    1. Increase recycling.
    2. Reduce regulated medical waste (RMW)
    3. Reduce hazardous chemical use
    4. Institute environmentally preferable purchasing strategies, including preference for reusable materials
    5. Promote energy conservation
    6. Promote water conservation
  3. Implement education programs.
    1. Coordinate new employee orientation.
    2. Create ongoing educational opportunities.
    3. Establish a process for problem resolution.
  4. Create a communication strategy.
    1. Market the facility's environmental efforts.
    2. Report program successes and achievements in monthly hospital newsletter.
  5. Manage Joint Commission Environment of Care performance improvement activities.

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Sustainability Value Analysis Committee

Value analysis committees have been around for awhile, so—although sustainability considerations may be new to these teams— they are well-versed in evaluating projects, materials, and services based on specific sets of criteria. Subcommittees may be formed for different areas (e.g., medical/surgical nursing unit, laboratory, surgery, pharmacy, etc.), and while the criteria may change from one area to another, the framework for adding environmental and health-related considerations should be consistent across them all.


  1. Develop and adopt sustainability criteria into the value analysis process, including—but not limited to—using materials that are less toxic, more durable (as opposed to disposable) and higher in recycled content; and making choices that are more energy- and water-efficient.
  2. Coordinate and track efforts among the various value analysis teams, and collaborate with the green team to ensure consistency and synergies in priority projects.

Suggested Participants. The mix in current teams may not change much, but we suggest inviting the sustainability director or chair of the green team to participate in the organization's main value analysis team. Likewise, a key participant in the value analysis process should be a member of the green team.  

Suggested Sustainability Value Analysis Committee Responsibilities

  1. Determine the critieria to adopt.
  2. Track environmental improvements, cost savings, and employee satisfaction feedback.
  3. Report to the green team on a regular basis and communicate the committee's efforts.
  4. Work hand-in-hand with other committees to ensure goals and objectives are clear and consistent with priorities.

For further reading, visit the Healthcare Purchasing News section of the AHRMM website to see the article Value analysis: a good idea, rejuvenated.

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Departmental Sustainability Coordinators

Recruiting staff in every department to help manage sustainability initiatives is a great way to help sustainability directors stretch limited resources. This decentralizes some of the responsibility to the departmental level, where it can be more efficiently and effectively implemented. Coordinators serve as point people to provide critical communication and operational links to all staff. This organizational structure offers the potential for substantial benefits, and it is relatively easy to implement by taking the following three steps.

STEP ONE: Determine the role of the sustainability coordinator and develop a "task description."

This role can be expanded to oversee any related sustainability effort from purchasing to energy education to basic hazardous materials functions, including MSDS (material safety data sheets) management in the department.

Sample Sustainability Coordinator Task Description

  1. Serve as a resource on recycling and waste management questions, energy and water conservation, environmentally preferable purchasing (EPP), or other initiatives.
  2. Coordinate e-mails, updates, and newsletters to communicate minimization or conservation efforts, including successes and areas needing improvement.
  3. Monitor containers for proper waste segregation and recycling.
    • Recycling bins:
      —Make sure all recycling bins are properly labeled.
      —Request additional bins as needed.
      —Assess proper placement and location of bins to encourage recycling.
    • Red bag waste containers:
      —Ensure all staff members are aware of the red bag minimization program.
      —Assess whether proper procedures are being followed, and report successes and problems to staff
  4. Help share information about projects—energy, water, and waste. With such communication, the projects will be better understood and their related changes are more likely to be practiced throughout the organization. For example, changes in lighting or plumbing fixtures should be explained so the staff knows what to expect in terms of difference in use, performance, and maintenance.

Suggested Coordinator Responsibilities

  • Serve as communication liaison with the primary sustainability director. Coordinators can regularly send e-mail updates communicating how the facility is doing with its sustainability efforts, including what is going well and what problems have emerged that need to be addressed. Coordinators would communicate this information to staff via meetings, flyers, e-mail, and word-of-mouth.
  • Monitor waste containers for proper placement and labeling. Waste containers with requisite bin labels should be placed where they will encourage proper waste segregation and recycling.
  • Implement education programs. Coordinators can make sure that staff is aware of red bag minimization programs, recycling procedures, proper hazardous waste disposal procedures, energy conservation measures, and so on. They should report successes and problems to department staff.
  • Serve as department resource for other sustainability efforts. Departmental staff should know who the coordinator is and that he or she is the appropriate person to field questions. Coordinators are also the primary liaison with environmental services (housekeeping) staff and supervisors in the department.

STEP TWO: Recruit staff.

Explain the initiatives to department directors, and ask them to assign staff to the task. The best coordinators are people who care about the issues.

A department or area can have as many sustainability coordinators as necessary to make the job manageable for the given department. Some departments have a main coordinator who in turn passes information to other key people. Others may have more than one coordinator if size warrants or if the coordinator doesn’t have access to evening/night and weekend staff. For most departments, one coordinator should be sufficient.

The number of coordinators a department needs can generally be determined by answering the following questions:

  • Is the department too large for one coordinator to effectively handle all responsibilities?
  • Are evening/night and weekend staff members getting the information they need to make good decisions?
  • Are there staff meetings the coordinator does not attend?

After determining staffing needs, gather information to create a spreadsheet that includes coordinator name, department, floor/area, e-mail, phone, housekeeping supervisor name, etc. The spreadsheet should allow sorting the information so the data can work well for each team member. Supervisors can also recruit staff and help keep lists updated.

STEP THREE: Launch your program.

Let staff know who has been designated as the sustainability coordinator for each department. Consider sending out a packet of fliers or other training materials for the coordinators to post. Make sure they understand what is being asked of them and what resources are available to help them coordinate efforts in their areas. Encourage coordinators to discuss waste management, energy savings, and other sustainability issues at staff meetings. Even better, have the coordinators arrange a tour with the sustainability directors of trash areas, energy management areas, pharmacy, etc. to illustrate best practices and areas of improvement.

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