Interview: How to Implement a Hospital’s Sustainability Program

This post is part of a series on sustainability in the health and wellness industry, curated by Becky Eisen, Dana Ledyard, Izabel Loinaz. Follow along with the series here.

Gail Lee, Sustainability Manager at University of California San Francisco medical facility, sat down with Izabel Loinaz to discuss the challenges in greening a major medical hospital.

Triple Pundit: Where are you in the development of the sustainability program at UCSF?

Gail Lee: When I tell people about my job they say ‘How can you do this job all by yourself?’  I tell them that I am not the only person working on sustainability. I am part of a team consisting of the Chancellor’s Advisory Committee on Sustainability(CACS), the Sustainability Steering Committee(SSC),  10 workgroups and various other green teams working together to meet the goals of sustainability at UCSF.  The 10 work groups consists of staff focusing on Carbon Neutrality, Zero Waste, Water Conservation,  Green Building, Procurement, Sustainable Food, Sustainable Operations, Toxics Reduction and Culture Shift. There are also various grass roots efforts as well.

3p: What is your biggest challenge as a sustainability manager?

GL: Our stated goals are the biggest challenge of my job.

UCSF carbon reduction goals are guided by the UC Policy on Sustainable Practices, which outlines the top three goals for all UC campuses:

  • By 2014, to reduce GHG emissions to 2000 levels
  • By 2020, to reduce GHG emissions to 1990 levels, Zero Waste and
  • To eventually become climate neutral.

The policy also requires that the UC campuses collectively install 10 megawatts of renewable energy by 2014 and provide 20 percent of their energy needs using renewable resources.  UCSF is expected to meet the 2014 goal, which will require cutting emissions by 20 percent to 2000 levels.  However, because UCSF is a rapidly growing institution, with the new medical center at Mission Bay coming online in 2014, the Climate Action Plan predicts that meeting the 2020 goal, will require cutting emissions by almost 50 percent to reach 1990 levels.

3p: Who are your supporters in the sustainability program at UCSF?  Who is helping you spread the word?

GL: There are many stakeholders across the campus and many are grass roots based.  We have the support of the CACS, the SSC and the various workgroup.  However, we need to develop and engage the rest of the campus and medical center with a consistent message to get them engaged and focused on our goals.  We are currently developing a sustainability brand for UCSF, which will help with the messaging.

3p: What initiative, program or implementation are you most proud of?

GL: I feel good about making the link from the university’s commitment to advancing health worldwide to sustainability.  Since I began in January of 2010, the website was a priority as a platform for this link as well as a means to begin the sustainability brand for UCSF.

3p: What other projects are you working on?

GL: Currently, we are working diligently on getting a consistent message to the UCSF community through our annual event, EarthFest where we will launch the Sustainability Action Plan to get the campus focused on our six strategic initiatives.  Part of that launch is to get campus green teams active to help support these initiatives.

3p: What do you think is motivating the movement towards sustainability within UCSF and health care in general?

GL: Right now, I am trying to use the website to motivate our stakeholders towards understanding the link between sustainability and health care but more work needs to be done to make that link intuitive.

3p: Do you feel the health care industry has a particular obligation to be a leader in the sustainable movement and practice?

GL: Yes.  Large health care institutions must take bold steps to address global climate change and show strong leadership for businesses and the community.  Health care institutions, known for their 24/7 operations and large waste-generating activities, have an obligation to reduce their environmental impact of their operations on their own community’s health.  It is amazing to me that health care in one of the last industries to integrate sustainability into operations.

3p: If the sky were the limit, what would be your vision for sustainability at UCSF?

GL: I would love to see a whole fleet of electric vehicles, solar panels on every roof, and fuel cells in every building and zero waste!


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