The health care industry has been slower than many others to adopt green and sustainability initiatives. The hospitality industry, for instance, got on board with environmental responsibility more than 25 years ago. Industry stakeholders viewed it as a way to provide their guests with guest rooms that were cleaner, safer, and healthier. Further, they were responding to corporate customers looking for vendors who shared similar environmental concerns. Along the way, hotel properties started realizing tangible cost savings by adopting sustainability measures.

This situation has been very different in health care. Health care facilities are in general much more complex than hotels, and they are used by far more people with a wider range of needs than the average hotel. Often health care administrators must grapple with many competing priorities, and frequently they do not have the funding nor the staff necessary to fully embrace environmental initiatives.   Further, healthcare facilities have many Federal and state rules and regulations they must follow.

Nevertheless, it is evolving. Although health care facilities may be behind some sectors, they are moving forward and have begun to make significant progress.

As they do so, however, many health care locations may forget an essential part of the sustainability journey, and that is this: making sure their staff know about their sustainability programs and the progress they are making. The move toward sustainability is welcome news for many in the health care industry, those of the millennial generation (Cone Communications, 2016), and any progress on this front should be shared with staff and other stakeholders. Health care facilities have the opportunity to increase employee retainment through their green initiatives when combined with the use of new technology, such as dashboard systems and engagement tools.

Monitoring Sustainability

Many health care facilities use dashboard systems that help them monitor and measure their use of energy, water, fuel, waste generation, and other metrics. For facilities without green or sustainability programs in place, these systems provide a benchmark. In some instances, administrators for the first time have data regarding, for instance, how much water their facility consumes on a monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. They can then compare these results to other similarly sized health care facilities to see how well, or not so well, they are doing in comparison.

Once facilities do begin their sustainability programs, dashboard systems can help administrators measure their improvement. For instance, initially, most health care facilities begin with the “low-hanging fruit.” They may transfer from traditional lighting systems to LED lighting bulbs and fixtures, for instance, which, while not inexpensive, typically are a smaller investment when compared to other upgrades. LED bulbs last much longer than incandescent or even fluorescent bulbs, and the fixtures use far less energy than traditional fixtures. This reduces energy consumption, sometimes considerably. As this happens, it will be noted on the dashboard for administrators to see and evaluate.

In most cases, however, that is as far as it goes. Building administrators and engineers may be jubilantly aware of their success in saving energy, but no one else knows about it. Further, even if staff and others are given the information, it is often presented in incomprehensible ways. For instance, what does to report to health care staff that their facility has reduced energy consumption from 97.2 British thermal units (BTUs) to 90.2 BTUs? In most cases, not much. More likely, the first question they will ask is, “What is a BTU?”

Engagement Tools and Millennials

Commercial buildings such as office buildings are installing engagement tools that address this communication problem. This relatively new technology connects the dots supplied by the dashboard systems and presents the information in a more tangible, understandable manner. For instance, if the health care facility has reduced energy consumption to 90.2 BTUs, as mentioned earlier, from a high of 97.2 BTUs, engagement tools will indicate that this is a large enough energy savings to power approximately 140 homes. That is tangible information we can all relate to, and this is where millennials—those born between 1980 and 1996 with an average age in their early thirties—come into the picture.

These younger workers want transparency, far more than previous generations.  They are sustainability focused and tech savvy, and they have expectations of their employers:

  • Approximately 64 percent of millennials consider an organization’s social and environmental commitments before deciding to work for that organization (Cone Communications, 2016).
  • More than 70 percent report they would be more loyal to an organization if it were socially and environmentally focused, similar to their own values (Cone Communications, 2016).

Millennials are on the cusp of outnumbering baby boomers as this country’s most significant living and working age group, according to a March 2018 study by Pew Research.  Because many older workers in health care are beginning to retire, this could also mean that millennials will make up the majority of the health care workforce within the next 10 years. While they will be in demand, or perhaps because of this, millennials have no fear of changing jobs and do so frequently. Turnover is disruptive to a health care facility and adds to operational costs; employee retainment affects not only financials but can also impact patient satisfaction. Engagement tools may be one way to slow down turnover and, taking this a step further, attract more younger people to work for an organization.

Millennials in particular want to work in green and sustainable facilities. But it’s not enough to make the changes. Administrators must also communicate those changes to their staff. With engagement tools, staff can see precisely how a building is performing and the steps their employer is taking to protect the environment. If the studies and surveys are correct, this is crucial information that this significant and growing workforce wants to know.

Katrina Saucier is the program manager for Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC, which measures, monitors, and reports sustainability information for building owners, managers, and users. She identifies as a Xenial—born on the cusp of the Gen X and Millennial generations. She can be reached at katrina@green2sustainable.com.

References

Cone Communications. (2016). 2016 Cone Communications millennial employee engagement study. Boston, MA: Author.

Bae, S.-H., Mark, B., & Fried, B. (2010). Impact of nursing unit turnover on patient outcomes in hospitals. Journal of Nursing Scholarship 42(1), 40-49.

Corresponding author: Katrina Saucier, Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC, katrina@green2sustainable.com.

 

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