Getting Leadership Support
Healthy organizations base their operations on business plans and sound strategies. A robust business plan incorporates a range of objectives designed to result in successful plan execution, including ways to manage costs, appeal to customers, engage employees, and position the organization for long-term viability. The growing emphasis on sustainability in organizations is exciting because it supports all of these business objectives. To fully take advantage of the opportunities, successful sustainability initiatives hinge on the participation of health care leaders.
Visit AHA's Executive Primer on Hospital Environmental Sustainability, an online guide to help hospital and health system leaders learn about sustainability practices. In particular, visit the pages on Leading the Journey.
C-suite leaders are not in a position that calls for them to roll up their sleeves and engage in the details of energy, water, waste, or climate mitigation strategies, but they are positioned to drive an organization's actions by setting and committing to a supportive statement of sustainability goals. In general, such a statement should include the organization's motivations for change (the reasons for the commitments), the results the organization hopes to achieve, and the activities it has committed to in order to reach those goals. The facility's executive leaders, possibly including the board of trustees, should sign off on the statement. You do not have to start from scratch in drafting your documents, thanks to the following organizations that have shared theirs: Boulder Community Hospital, Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center, and St. Mary's Medical Center. Contact us to share yours.
C-suite leaders can also lead by example through visible, day-to-day personal actions.
- Dedicate the necessary human resources to coordinate and manage sustainability initiatives, a key requirement for a successful program. Sustainability managers are relatively new positions on hospital organizational charts, but they pay for themselves through the management of cost-saving measures that affect waste reduction, environmentally preferable purchasing, and energy and water reduction efforts. Contact us for sample job descriptions.
- Support the creation of a green team to ensure that issues regarding sustainability are addressed and initiatives are implemented.
- Walk the talk. Make recycling a top priority in leadership offices. Insist on double-sided copied and printed reports. Use a reusable mug, and encourage others to do the same. Bike, walk, or take public transportation to work. Such actions will be noticed—and potentially emulated—by the staff.
- Publicize the organization's actions and progress on a regular basis. This requires dedicated resources to enable information gathering and communication.
- Encourage the organization to seek recognition in the community through regular public affairs communications as well as sustainability awards and recognition programs.
It's important that executive leaders understand the vocabulary of sustainability in the health care context and are able to articulate its operational and financial value. They must be informed and capable of communicating what the organization is doing to solve the problems that face all facilities. However, a leader cannot fully address sustainability without adequate support. (See the Roadmap's Resource section for a good set of talking points.) It takes effective teams to create lasting change. Engaging key decision-makers and staff members&mdashboth supporters and skeptics—from relevant departments to build functional teams is critical to every initiative and a logical place to start. See the Roadmap's page on building teams for more information.
From the Harvard Business Review
A common misconception is that "going green" always costs more, creating a barrier to taking even small and easy steps. Leaders play a unique and critical role in providing vision and guidance on this front. Although some sustainability initiatives require creative funding strategies, most pay for themselves with excellent return on investment (ROI) in a relatively short period. Other paybacks are realized in less obvious but no less important ways, such as fewer employee sick days and improved patient recovery time. For more information, see the following resources:
- AHA Executive Primer Web page on financing initiatives
- The Business Case for Greening the Health Care Sector is a report prepared by Practice Greenhealth and the Institute for Innovation in Large Organizations; it is available for download at www.practicegreenhealth.org/private/library_resource/385.
- The Cost of Green Revisited, a report available from davislangdon.com, summarizes the real vs. perceived costs of “going green.”
Communicating a vision can be motivating. Take advantage of all forms of communication to let staff and the community know about the vision you are creating. Engage staff to participate. Measure staff satisfaction, cost savings, and environmental improvements and report on progress regularly. Sustainability requires a culture change, and that will only happen with effective leadership, supportive policies, adequate resources, and a clearly communicated vision. Potential actions could include:
- Provide staff with a copy of the sustainability statement drafted above. Post it in key locations. Write an article about it. Let the local paper know you are launching a sustainability effort.
- Encourage staff to offer feedback. Provide a suggestion box or a place to submit frequently asked questions. Answer them publicly.
- Deliver progress reports and updates at staff meetings. Provide a scorecard with key measurements that everyone can understand: paper recycled, gallons of water saved, energy saved, money saved!
- Survey staff for their assessment of the new programs share that feedback with others.
- Use a variety of communication methods to provide information and education—one-on-one or group dialogue, company magazines, electronic newsletters, postings on a break room bulletin board, etc.
- Work with HR to incorporate sustainability efforts (particularly those focused on compliance-related issues) into employee job descriptions and performance evaluations.
To learn more about generating leadership support, visit the Roadmap's companion site, the Executive Primer on Hospital Environmental Sustainability. Key links on the Hospital Environmental Sustainability site include these:
- The homepage features a video introduction from AHA President Rich Umbdenstock: www.hospitalsustainability.org.
- The Leading the Journey page provides an overview of leadership strategies: www.hospitalsustainability.org/leading.shtml.
Going Green? The Chief Sustainability Officer Role in Corporations study provided input for this Web page: James Celentano et al. (Hudson Gain Corporation, 10/15/08).
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