Planning a Journey on the Road to Sustainability

The Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals can help you determine where your organization is on the road to sustainability. Begin your journey by choosing among the following options for the starting point that best fits your current position:

Once your organization has chosen an appropriate starting point and determined a desired destination (end-result goals), it is time to map your route (action plans). Following is the Roadmap guide to planning your sustainability effort. As with any journey, choose an appropriate starting point, determine the destination (end-result goals), and map the route (action plans). While action plans and goals will be revisited and perhaps altered along the way, the planning guide can help your organization begin charting its course today.

Planning Guide

Build Teams. A sustainability initiative is like a team sport. Successful teams have effective coaches (leaders), a game plan, the right players for the right positions, and a sense that all players are contributing to the outcomes. For developing an effective game plan, the Roadmap suggests a three-tiered structure for organizational teams that begins with a sustainability committee or green team that looks at the big picture—the sustainability effort across the organization. Ad-hoc committees and subcommittees are created to execute the game plan, in other words, to carry out the actions and meet the goals established by the sustainability committee or green team.

Determine Baselines. When starting a sustainability initiative, it is to your advantage to have a baseline of current use and/or performance from which to develop your organization's goals and assess its progress. For example, by measuring current energy use and water usage as well as waste by type, you will have the information you need to understand and illustrate your starting point. Accordingly, your organization will be in a better position for setting initial goals and planning your effort.

"Please just give me a list of the Top 10 projects I should be doing today!"
  • Energy: Several tools are available for identifying energy baselines and benchmarks, including the industry standard, Portfolio Manager, from Energy Star. Simple spreadsheets also can be helpful.
  • Water: Capture water use data Watermark! or Energy Star's Portfolio Manager (water module).
  • Waste: Capture data for every waste stream for three to six months and annualize the total amount of waste. Be sure to include weight and cost.
  • Operations: Assess the current state of your policies, procedures, compliance procedures, and responsibility/accountability across a number of sustainability program areas.

A note about "baseline" vs. "benchmark" measurements: A baseline is a starting point performance measurement useful for future reference. A benchmark is a measurement point used to assess relative performance, but is typically used to set a standard of performance for comparison.

Identify Drivers and Barriers. The factors that can drive an organization to consider undertaking a sustainability initiative include cost savings, improved employee health and safety, better environmental performance, favorable public relations potential, and ease of implementation. Understanding your organization's drivers will help clarify which projects are most likely to meet related objectives and will increase the likelihood of success with the overall initiative.

It is important to recognize potential barriers to taking on a sustainability initiative, as well. This gives decision-makers a chance to address any misconceptions or road-blocks up-front. Arguments against sustainability initiatives often include "going green always costs more" (be prepared to respond with good cost/benefit data); there's no time (be prepared with suggestions for resource allocation, even hiring a sustainability coordinator); we have no space (be prepared to bring teams together for some creative problem-solving sessions); we don't have the leadership (be prepared with sample policies, statements of principles/mission, and other information to engage decision makers); and so on. Understanding of both the drivers and barriers will influence the development of the organization's sustainability strategy.

Develop Sustainability Goals. Having reasonable goals will guide an organization on its journey to sustainability. Make sure your facility develops SMART goals.

Early non-numeric goals may include the following:

  • Assessing the current status of sustainability-related programs (e.g., compliance programs, policies, etc.). Make a list of programs and who/what department has responsibility for each. This basic program assessment may yield surprising results that help determine later goals.
  • Setting the baseline (described above) for energy and water use and for waste generation
  • Building teams to manage and implement specific sustainability efforts
  • Tackling the Roadmap's Green Light Projects
  • Starting a recycling program
  • Developing a statement of environmental principles

Numeric goals typically include measurable outcomes, such as:

  • Reducing water use by 20 percent by 2020
  • Achieving an EnergyStar Portfolio Manager rating of 50 by 2015
  • Achieving a recycling rate of 25 percent by 2015
  • Implementing a solvent recycling system to reduce hazardous chemical purchase and disposal costs

Set Targets. The Roadmap provides tools for use in setting targets for energy, water, and waste. As a first step, decide whether a Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced path is most appropriate for your organization and then choose a suitable timeframe. The objective is to set goals for at least the coming 12–24 months, and then to look to future projections to determine long-term target-setting goals. The end goal is to set targets and corresponding action plans using the Basic, Intermediate, or Advanced (BIA) framework against short- (12–24 months) and long-term (5-, 10-, or even 30-year) timelines.

Develop Action Plans Using the Roadmap’s PIMs. An extensive list of specific performance improvement measures (PIMs) was compiled for the Roadmap to provide readers with suggested projects—organized by broad topic area—for reaching their sustainability goals. Browse the topic areas according to your organization's needs and interests, and select appropriate measures to include in your action plan. Each measure includes a detailed description, applicable calculation tools, case studies, and links to more resources. The Green Light Projects lists are subsets of the PIM database that identify measures that are relatively easily and inexpensively implemented but still offer significant performance improvement.

The PIMs are an evolving resource. We welcome your feedback and suggested additions. Please contact us.

Make the Business Case. The Roadmap has several tools to help develop the business case for a sustainability project or plan. Cost/benefit tools for energy projects, for example, are in a cost analysis template that can help a facility evaluate the financial potential of energy projects or groups of projects. The template was developed in collaboration with health care CFOs and includes default assumptions that can be tailored to your organization’s needs. The calculator will provide information on payback, internal rate of return, net present value, and impact on annual income statement. (To use this tool successfully, first become familiar with the financial metrics used by your organization. Then use this template to generate a simplified, standardized evaluation of potential projects.)

Set Annual Goals and Action Plans; Measure and Report Progress. In a “plan-do-check-act” management structure, this work is cyclical. Having good data is a critical component of the routine process of goal-setting and action planning. Use the tools in the Roadmap to collect, assess, and regularly report performance data as the organization progresses through its sustainability goals. Take advantage of awards and recognition programs through Practice Greenhealth, Energy Star, or certification programs like LEED.

Take Advantage of Available Resources. To help you on your journey to sustainability, the Roadmap’s Consumer Guide is a summary of programs such as LEED, Green Guide for Health Care (GGHC), and GreenGlobes. Some of these programs suggest targets that may be adopted, along with strategies for achieving them. Some are health care-specific, like GGHC; some cover a broad range of sustainability issues; and others focus on only one aspect of sustainability (e.g., energy). The Consumer Guide provides a visual overview of the programs.

Contribute to the Roadmap. It takes a community to keep a national clearinghouse vibrant with the latest, best practice advice, and we welcome your contributions. If you are willing to share policies and procedures, write a case study, become an ask-the-expert contributor, or assist in another way, please contact us.

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