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Building a Culture of Sustainability

Published October 15, 2014 12:00 PM by Lynn

[Editor's note: This blog is posted on behalf of Paul Spiegelman, chief culture officer, Stericycle, Inc., award-winning speaker and best-selling author of "Patients Come Second."]

Gallup, a global research and consulting firm, annually conducts a survey called "The State of the American Workplace." This year the results should alarm American business leaders, particularly our healthcare colleagues.

Of the approximately 100 million people in America who hold full-time jobs, 50% of American workers are not engaged. Another 20% of those surveyed - 20 million people - are actively disengaged from work. Chances are these employees - statistically 70% of our workforce-will not improve our patient experience or fulfill our institutions' mission unless the culture changes. 

Their discontent affects your bottom line, too. Disengaged workers cost the U.S. between $450 billion to $550 billion each year in lost productivity. They can also cause increased physical injury. Gallup compared the top 25% of engaged teams with the bottom 25% and found that the poorly managed teams experienced 50% more accidents than their counterparts. Employee injuries mean risk-particularly related to costs, compliance and reputation.  With millions of dollars now at risk based on patient satisfaction and the increase in pay for performance initiatives, how do we prioritize our efforts for the best return on investment?

The answer is we need to start inside. We need to show our commitment to our own employees first, because engaged employees will provide better patient care, which in turn will drive patient loyalty, and positively impact the bottom line. We need to focus on our core purpose as healthcare organizations to heal and promote health. And we need to rally around initiatives that make our employees feel good about the impact they are making. One such initiative that touches all of these issues, makes the world a better place, and impacts the bottom line is sustainability. Greening operations is an opportune platform to align employees to your institution's values, provide them with more training for a safer work environment and bolster pride in their employer-all of which results in better engagement. 

Here's how:

Define and Align Your Values

The healthcare landscape is in a state of constant change:  90% of newly hired physicians are employed by brick and mortar hospitals and our networks are getting more spread out with multiple sites with the growing development IDNs and ACOs.  This is why we need to align our teams with a common strategy and purpose.

Getting Started

The first steps in making sustainability an element of your cultural framework is  to make sure that it is stated as part of your organizational vision .  For example:

  • Define sustainability as a core value
  • Quantify what it means to have a sustainable "impact" for your organization - measure and monitor over time
  • Recruit executive buy-in; the message has to be delivered repeatedly and consistently from the top

Help the Initiative Trickle Down

Establishing "green teams" empowers employees to help manage sustainability initiatives with pride.

  • Find internal champions and develop an oversight committee
  • Recruit department representatives to be the conduit to their teams. Engage in friendly competitions and publish results and best practices
  • Become a thought leader in your own community by publicizing your impact on patient safety and the environment via your organization's public channels and trade media

Learn From Others

When it comes to building great cultures around sustainability, there are some influential examples in our industry.  Consider the following:

  • John Hopkins Hospital found employee education a critical component to green operations. Through recycling, its overall trash production decreased by 17 percent.

Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak, a 1,070-bed hospital in metro Detroit, has 500 "green officers" - employees who are ambassadors of green practices to their departments. 

Measure the Initiative: Going Green, Seeing Green

Can greening operations also drive financial results? With a culture of properly engaged employees, of course it can!  Arkansas Children's Hospital saw a significant cost savings with a "Know Where to Throw" campaign that educated employees about red-bag disposal, resulting in a 32% waste reduction and a six-figure savings. 

Sustainable Change

By making purposeful culture changes, supported by consistent and ongoing training and communication, your management team leverages the power of engaged employees. As this base grows, your patients, community and environment can feel the power of a well-managed and motivated staff.  And if we have a motivated staff, we'll see better patient care, better safety scores and better financial results.


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