Birth of the Green Team

What started as a grassroots effort less than a decade ago has grown to be a substantial force for positive change in the health care field.

By Sean Moores on July 28, 2016

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The main lobby of Littleton Adventist Hospital overlooking the cafeteria seating area, with the Rocky Mountains as a majestic backdrop.

At a quarterly meeting, an associate at Littleton Adventist Hospital suggested that the hospital implement a sustainability program. Recognizing how well caring for the environment aligns with their mission, the Sustainability Advisory Committee (affectionately called the green team) began as a grassroots effort in 2008. It is now one of the premier environmental sustainability programs not just in Colorado, but across the entire country.

The program started with the hospital taking inventory of all existing initiatives that could be classified as green and began assessing progress on each of those initiatives. Tracking regulated medical waste started in 2006 and through education, audits and implementation of reusable sharps collection containers, the hospitals experienced a 47 percent reduction in medical waste over the course of the last decade. Littleton Adventist Hospital was the first hospital within Centura Health to put this program into practice; the program is now in all 17 Centura Health hospitals.

The Littleton Green Team currently has more than 50 members and is primarily comprised of line staff and a few managers, however all employees are welcome. Key to the success of the sustainability efforts are volunteers known as champions, or members who do not usually have time to attend meetings, but get all mailings and take the responsibility to educate and promote initiatives in their departments. Champions also assist with the numerous green team events throughout the year.

“As our culture has changed from a convenience mentality to one that truly cares about our hospital’s footprint on our environment, our associates are proud to join,” said Kirsi Aryan-Edwardson, director of sustainability, nutrition and environmental services. The obvious success of their efforts with recognition that includes many local and national awards, further inspires associates to stay engaged. “All Littleton Adventist Hospital associates, physicians and volunteers know that sustainability is everyone’s responsibility,” said Aryan-Edwardson.

Executive leadership support and participation have been essential to the success of the sustainability programs. Since the green team includes members from most departments and off-site clinics, executive leadership appreciates the program’s value as an important associate engagement tool.

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The green team at Littleton Adventist Hospital began when one person addressed the need.

Littleton Adventist Hospital’s commitment to environmental stewardship has paid off. It has seen consistent improvement in areas such as recycling and energy use (with a 42.9 percent waste diversion rate in 2015, up from 34.4 percent in 2014), and through recycling, composting, reprocessing, reusing, repurposing and donations. The facility received an ENERGY STAR score of 73 out of 100 in the same year, a three-point increase from 2014. Their energy reduction initiatives have earned the hospital ENERGY STAR Awards from the EPA four years in a row.

The facility did make some investments in order to achieve those goals. An energy consultant was hired to help reduce energy use, and changes were made to the existing power delivery equipment. The hospital also purchased new energy-efficient equipment, changed all lighting throughout the facility to LED, installed light sensors and programmed computers and other electrical equipment to power down and off in noncritical areas to support its Call to Action program. Through the program, green team members encourage staff to turn electrical equipment off when not in use.

“Ongoing improvement is an expectation every health care associate embraces, and sustainability is no exception,” said Aryan-Edwardson. Timely tracking of results and applying for awards to bring credibility to the programs have proven invaluable in providing tangible results and instilling employee pride in their efforts. “The cost savings and environmental benefit reports have been inspiring and encourage staff to try even harder.”

Waste segregation and minimizing regulated medical waste have been key parts of the hospital’s environmental initiatives through the years. With audits, tracking and ongoing education, Littleton has been able to keep waste to a minimum and remain a Conditionally Exempt Small Quantity Generator. The hospital has seen a 47 percent biohazard waste reduction since 2006, and since 2009 has chosen not to drain-dispose any pharmaceuticals, including nonhazardous medications. The only drain disposal allowed in the hospital is plain saline and dextrose. “This is the right thing to do for our environment,” said Aryan-Edwardson.

“The cost savings and environmental benefit reports have been inspiring and encourage staff to try even harder.”
—Kirsi Aryan-Edwardson

Littleton Adventist Hospital’s commitment to a healthy and sustainable food system included the five-year implementation of Michelle Obama’s Partnership for Healthier America program which, among other things, includes education on healthy eating, increasing fresh vegetable and fruit offerings, elimination of fried foods and reducing sugary beverages.

But the commitment didn’t stop there. The hospital cafeteria includes a daily vegetarian option and prices healthy food options more favorably, which gives staff and visitors an incentive to eat well. It strives to purchase locally as much as contracts and seasons allow and has eliminated bottled water in favor of filtered water stations to reduce plastic waste. The cost of beverages is discounted for customers who bring their own cups or bottles, and all drinking water is complimentary, including a compostable cup and lid.

The hospital has seen a 19.6 percent reduction in the use of meat, and 27.1 percent of meat and poultry served is raised without the use of nontherapeutic antibiotics.

Littleton Adventist Hospital has composted food waste for five years and purchases only reusable, compostable or recyclable disposables for the cafeteria, catering and patient meals to make the segregation of waste easier for its customers. The hospital eliminated all Styrofoam several years ago, which was a somewhat costly decision, but waste diversion is one of its program’s priorities and an expectation from staff and customers.

Littleton Adventist Hospital continues to look to the future with its sustainability programs and exploring renewable energy opportunities and, as of earlier this year, is partnering with Denver Water in a pilot program to implement a comprehensive water use reduction program.