Earth Day Is Every Day

By Brenna Davis

In a country where health care is the second largest producer of waste (behind fast food), we are working hard to be a sustainable health care leader. Why? Because providing quality care includes preventing environmental illness and preserving the natural environment for future generations.

Virginia Mason Reducing Waste in Health Care Infographic

Click to enlarge

While Earth Day is significant in that it draws awareness to the need to preserve our planet, we want you to know what our EnviroMason program has been doing to contribute to the preservation of our most precious resources all year long:

In 2014, Virginia Mason:
• Became the first health care organization in the U.S. to obtain Marine Stewardship Council certification, which allows us to serve sustainable seafood in our cafeteria. Our Food and Nutrition Services Department serves 1.5 million meals, and almost 40 percent of the supplies were local or sustainable.

• Partnered with Pike Place Market to bring an express market to First Hill.  This serves Virginia Mason team members and local residents of the neighborhood who don’t have nearby grocery stores. The market is affordable for everyone through the Electronic Benefit Transfer card (EBT) and Seattle’s Fresh Bucks program.

• Expanded our recycling and composting program throughout Virginia Mason Hospital, diverting more than 50 percent of our waste from landfills in an industry where 20 percent is the average.

• Expanded our commitment to clean air through alternative transportation by supporting legislative action that led to a comprehensive transportation program in our state. Our team members continued to receive a 75 percent bus pass subsidy and free access to bike cages. Our efforts led to being honored by the City of Seattle’s Department of Transportation as one of the best employer transportation programs in the city.

• Implemented four hours of free parking while charging electric vehicles on the Blink Network, increasing use of the charging stations by 200 percent.

• Installed new sterilizing equipment that saved more than 2 million gallons of water a year. The new, more efficient models also use less electricity. We have already seen cost savings as a result.

• Led the call for climate action in our state as chairs of the Washington Business Climate Declaration. Almost 200 businesses have signed the declaration, including other major employers in the state.

• Participated in a White House roundtable on climate resilience in health care. We continue to work on this issue at the national level as founding members of the Health Care Without Harm Climate Council.

Last week we also led a global call for climate action by joining eight other health care institutions around the world to launch the 2020 Health Care ClimateChallenge with Health Care Without Harm’s Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network. The 2020 Challenge invites health care systems and hospitals to reduce their carbon footprint and protect public health from climate change. This initiative marks the first international effort to track emissions and take measurable actions to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint. You can learn more about this work at www.greenhospitals.net.

So on this Earth Day 2015, please join us in taking a moment to consider how you can reduce your environmental impact and protect the natural world. After all, we need a healthy planet to have healthy people.

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Brenna Davis, director of Sustainability

Brenna Davis is Virginia Mason’s director of Sustainability. She is founder of the Pacific Northwest Healthcare Sustainability Leaders Roundtable and chairperson of the Washington Businesses for Climate Action, a group of business leaders that recruited more than 180 businesses to sign the Washington Business Climate Declaration. 

Can Do: Cafeteria Changes to Soda Cans to Help Environment

The Four Seasons Cafeteria at Virginia Mason is trying cans instead of plastic bottles for soda.

The Four Seasons Cafeteria at Virginia Mason is trying cans instead of plastic bottles for soda.

Consider these facts:

  • Plastic bottles take 700 years before they start to decompose, and it can take up to 1,000 years before they fully decompose.
  • 80 percent of plastic bottles are not recycled, left to sit around and take up space in landfills and in nature for 1,000 years.
  • Millions of gallons of oil are used to produce plastic bottles every year.

When you consider the big picture, it’s easy to see why controlling the proliferation of plastic bottled beverages is a key step to protecting our environment. That is why the Food and Nutrition Services team at Virginia Mason is piloting an initiative to reduce the number of beverages served in plastic bottles in our hospital cafeteria and vending machines across the medical center. This initiative is one more step for our EnviroMason conservation program at Virginia Mason.

“When you think about the environmental impact of the billions of plastic bottles littering our planet, it’s clear that businesses and individuals will have to come together and work on a solution to this problem,” says Jerry Roundy, director, Food and Nutrition Services. “Recycling helps, but it’s not enough. That is why Virginia Mason is doing its part to reduce the number of plastic bottles we sell.”

For those who may be worried about their favorite flavor of drink going away – don’t despair. Roundy says the cafeteria will continue to provide all the same flavors of sodas and juices as before, but they will move to 12 oz. aluminum cans instead.