In 2008, a small group of Virtua employees who are passionate about the environment came together to discuss how the health system could do a better job of reducing, reusing, and recycling waste. This Green Team sought support from senior leaders knowing an executive endorsement would legitimize the team's work, give the team access to resources, and enable team members to look more critically at Virtua's green initiatives. Senior leaders supported the team, which tied its efforts to resource stewardship and clinical quality and safety-two attributes Virtua believes are critical to delivering an outstanding patient experience.

The Green Team discovered that many small green initiatives were under way at the health system's facilities; however, most were uncoordinated or inefficiently run. Some sites were recycling batteries, other facilities were collecting cardboard, while others did not realize Virtua had a program to recycle laptops and phones. The organization showed disparate efforts among facilities that were not communicating with one another about their environmental work.

Green Council Established

In June 2009, the team established a volunteer-based Green Council to further its initiatives and boost communication. This systemwide group is comprised of nurses, food service managers, environmental services, safety officers, home care, IT representatives, and other employees with a passion for the environment. The Green Council meets monthly and is responsible for promoting green projects, communicating about the projects in ways that are easy to understand, and making process changes easy for employees.

To transfer ownership to the staff level, the Green Council established Green Teams at each hospital that are made up of environmentally conscious employees who want to participate in green projects.

One of the key functions of the Green Council is to drive environmental resource stewardship. The council keeps a grid that lists each green initiative at each facility and indicates how the effort is progressing. Maintaining the grid requires each facility to be transparent about what they are-or are not-doing to promote a green workplace.

Virtua Health Green Initiatives By Location

The Green Council also encourages Virtua employees to share best practices and stories of success and failure during its meetings, and makes information available through the Virtua intranet.

Expanding Existing Green Initiatives

The Virtua Green Council has worked to standardize existing green initiatives throughout the health system. For example, Virtua's organic food waste program was in place at only two of its four acute care facilities, but with the help of the Green Council, the program was expanded to the two other locations. From January 2010 to September 2010, this initiative resulted in 21 tons of food waste per month being diverted from Virtua trash and, subsequently, being converted into fertilizer by an outside company.

Another example involved recycling cardboard and paper. The health system did not have a standardized recycling process, so the Green Council decided to switch to single-stream recycling. The change made it easier for employees and visitors to dispose of trash effectively. The waste management company made a presentation to the Green Council on the single-stream recycling process, and the council took responsibility for analyzing which receptacles were needed and educating employees. Single-stream recycling has been so successful that Virtua has collaborated with management at its non-Virtua-owned facilities to implement single-stream recycling in those places, as well.

Source: Virtua Health

Return to related article:Virtua Employees Minimize Waste to Maximize Savings

Publication Date: Friday, April 15, 2011