Connecting the Dots

Here's how you can help senior leaders understand the connection between sustainability programming and its population impact.

By janet howard on January 19, 2017

connectingthedotsEnvironmental stewardship connects to population health, prevention, staff satisfaction and performance excellence. Increasingly, health care leaders are connecting the dots and seeing that healthier food, for example, isn’t just about supporting local agriculture, but also about offering a single, programmatic focus connecting population health, community engagement, climate health, chemical avoidance, nutrition, multidrug-resistant organisms, satisfaction and more. Pick any environmental stewardship activity—recycling, energy conservation, fleet management or water conservation, to name a few—and the same exercise can be performed.

Not only can this be done, but it should be done. Helping senior leadership and all staff understand this connectivity serves to cement the programming and further this important work for combined benefit. Down come the silos—leading to power, momentum and success.

One leading Practice Greenhealth health system member is getting serious about its systemwide commitment, goal-setting and strategic deployment. It participated in our Sustainability Strategic Deployment Visioning and Goal Setting consult offering (, and asked us to help envision the model behavior of leadership when it comes to sustainability programming. It asked questions such as: What behaviors should leaders exhibit that promote a healthier environment and culture? What behaviors can leaders embody to engage workers, articulate the value of programming and lift it to its highest potential? Practice Greenhealth and Health Care Without Harm convened a group and crafted these exemplary leadership behaviors to further a culture of health.

Add These Leadership Behaviors, Inspire a Culture of Health

Respect & Humility. A leader is someone who treats staff with respect by listening and empowering them to make decisions that align with the hospital’s mission and vision. Leaders are also humble, willing to learn and assess initiatives based on the triple bottom line by putting people first, planet second and understanding that prosperity follows. Think about patient- and employee-focused leadership as a commitment to the organization’s most valuable assets—people. Leading with integrity can be demonstrated by starting meetings with reflections, ensuring authenticity in messaging, and demonstrating care and concern for the health and well-being of staff by holding town hall meetings and offering other demonstrations of heartfelt leadership. This pays off in productivity, a culture of caring and financial returns. People are the greatest asset in any organization, and when employees feel respected, they give more. Engage their hearts and minds!

Engagement. A visible leader is an approachable leader. Accessible leaders walk the floors and talk to staff. They also engage staff to take leadership roles for sustainability, for example, by identifying a clinical leader ( at each practice site or clinical department who can frame sustainability programming as a public health issue. This kind of leadership can also be highlighted through Practice Greenhealth’s “Leadership talks, walks, envisions” ( and through attendance at CleanMed ( An easy way to measure staff impressions as they relate to a healthier environment is to integrate a question into the employee engagement survey. For example, one hospital asks its employees to rate this statement: “My site is environmentally responsible.”

Recognition, Capacity & Wellness. When employees are involved in environmental stewardship, it is recognized as valuable. Employees have a voice and should be acknowledged for their efforts. A good manager recognizes the value in staff engagement and ensures that supporting staff participation is encouraged and aligns with the mission. Consider internal recognition for staff engagement by highlighting successes in newsletters, blogs, recognition events and other outlets. Meanwhile, the powerful connection between sustainability programming and the health and wellness department can be realized through joint projects, increased communication and messaging.

Creativity & Idea Generation. Creative leaders are open-minded and think about things in new ways. For example, multistakeholder engagement, regional partnerships, incentives and green revolving funds are all innovative ways to help bring sustainable stewardship programs into the organization. Creative leaders also empower idea generation. Front-line employees know their work and have ideas on how to make the patient care experience more positive or their workplace better. By creating or supporting a platform to share these ideas, leaders can evaluate them to see what resources are needed to bring them to life.

Communication & Commitment. Leaders find their own voice in communicating the importance of environmental stewardship. They reinforce their commitment by walking the walk and talking the talk, demonstrating their personal involvement through their own aligned passions—whether that’s gardening, recycling or hosting community events. A coordinated communication plan and strategy—which could include video blogging, writing articles and posting on social media—can connect and inspire others to see that the organization is doing the right thing and following a healthy business model. A communication strategy that is as diverse as its stakeholder groups and properly messages why programs are underway helps staff, patients and visitors understand the impact of the healthy programming.

Coaching & Mentoring. Leaders take time to coach and mentor their peers and direct reports. This means helping employees grow through succession planning and even asking their one true measure: “How happy are you with your job?”

Problem-Solving & Barriers. Sustainability programming can meet numerous obstacles. Leaders identify problems and remove barriers. Obstacles can be identified through strategic discussion. Leadership can then address these issues and promote problem-solving to prevent future issues and find a pathway to success.

Human Resources. Introducing environmental goals into the performance goal process through HR ensures that the goals are valued and can cascade through the organization. Develop a Green Employee Benefits program that helps employees connect their participation in environmental stewardship outside of the hospital, and show how purchasing clean energy, taking alternative transportation or having a retirement plan without fossil fuel investments ultimately connects to the health of their community. Add language to key job descriptions to ensure that managers are open and willing to engage in sustainability initiatives.

Get More Help via These Resources

The Employee Engagement Toolkit & White Paper. This resource ( shares the evidence that a healthier environment has the potential to attract and retain staff, increase satisfaction and help reduce the national turnover rate of 16.5 percent. This toolkit contains a white paper, PowerPoint deck with script, a link to archived calls, case studies, poster templates and more. The tool can be used to bridge sustainability programming and human resources, and to explore the connection between healthier environments and more productive and satisfied staff.

Leadership Talks, Walks and Envisions a Healthier Future. When a leader “gets it,” we have cause to celebrate and help others see what an engaged leader looks and sounds like, and how he or she envisions activities dedicated to creating healthier environments. Download the Leadership Spotlight submission form (, interview a leader (clinical or executive champion), send the completed form to Practice Greenhealth, and our team will share these success stories on the Practice Greenhealth website.

Green Employee Benefits. The benefits can facilitate behavioral changes with results that employees can see, and that also measurably benefit the environment. They have the potential to accelerate meaningful environmental impacts and bring sustainability values deeper into the fabric of an organization. The services can also help retain and attract employees, as well as benefit their health and financial well-being. The first toolkit focuses on creating an Employee Home Solar discount program (, with step-by-step guidance on setting up a program that provides health system employees with the opportunity to buy or lease solar systems for their homes at a substantially lower rate than the national average. Additional toolkits are being developed.

Marketing & Communications Plan. Practice Greenhealth developed a Marketing Plan Toolkit ( to facilitate messaging to stakeholders including staff, patients and the community. Many Practice Greenhealth members start with staff education first and increase the communication to other stakeholders as programs mature. New employee orientation is a very important first step in raising awareness and helping new hires understand their role in creating healing environments. Practice Greenhealth members can access a PowerPoint template with script ( to modify for use. Both are in the Member Toolbox (scroll down to “Sample Training and Education Materials”).

Engaged Leadership Challenge. Not quite there yet at your facility? Enroll in the Healthier Hospitals Engaged Leadership Challenge ( Here, you can download a How-To Guide, Clinical Champion Checklist, Executive Champion Checklist, Sharing Success Worksheet, PowerPoint template and more. Use the toolkit to build the case for engagement at your organization and let Practice Greenhealth help you get there