When you talk with hospital sustainability leaders, one thing is clear: Sustainability is a way of life. Environmental excellence is built into the fabric of everything they do. It’s about thinking big and starting small, and acting in the best interest of their patients and communities. Partnership is what makes it happen: working together to improve both environmental and human health.

These leaders are part of the HealthTrust membership, and they’re making a difference across the country. Practice Greenhealth included four of these facilities on its list of the top 25 most sustainable hospitals, as part of its 2020 Environmental Excellence Awards. Sustainability leaders from these four hospitals recently talked with The Source about some of their most successful programs.

Nourishing our community: Boston Medical Center

David Maffeo
David Maffeo

David Maffeo, Senior Director of Support Services at Boston Medical Center (BMC), oversees sustainability efforts as one of his areas of responsibility. He says that with healthcare costs at a premium, his organization views sustainability as an important way to be good environmental stewards, reduce costs and provide better care to their patients and their communities.

“A lot of our patients are food insecure and face other social determinants of health,” Maffeo says. “Every dollar we save with our sustainability program can go to better care for our patients.”

BMC takes a holistic approach with its food and nutrition supply chain by supporting local vendors. For example, it sources fish from Gloucester, Massachusetts, a seaport town 35 miles northeast of Boston, making it less expensive, healthier and better for the environment.

BMC is also one of the only hospitals with a rooftop farm. Growing over 6,000 pounds of food for its patients per year, the farm keeps the building cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, and has been going strong for five years. It has been extremely successful, supporting a therapeutic food pantry and serving an average of 7,000 people in need each month.

“We asked how else we could serve our patients,” Maffeo says, explaining how the idea for a rooftop farm came about. After a short meeting with Bob Biggio, SVP of Facilities and Support Services, the idea of growing their own food was set in motion. So the team, along with amazing philanthropic partners, raised the funds to build the farm, hire a farm manager and staff, and make it happen. The farm produces 20 different vegetables, from leafy greens and peppers to tomatoes, carrots and radishes.

The response has been nothing short of amazing. People from across the world have come to tour the farm at BMC.

BMC also offers tours and classes in a teaching kitchen to show people from the Boston community how to cook and grow on their own. Due to COVID-19, the classes are now online, but they still attract about 15 people per session.

What’s Maffeo’s advice? “Never think that it’s a financial obstacle to make something happen,” he says. “If it’s good for your patients, there’s a way to get it done.”

Beekeeping as a revenue stream: Overlook Medical Center, Atlantic Health System

Melissa Bonassisa
Melissa Bonassisa

Sustainability programs at Overlook Medical Center start organically and evolve with each passing year. “This approach allows us to build on what works and more easily replicate best practices,” says Melissa Bonassisa, Medical Imaging Supervisor and Co-chair of the Green Team at Overlook Medical Center in Summit, New Jersey.

In 2013, Overlook introduced beekeeping on campus as an important step in reversing the negative effects of bee colony collapse on the environment. The program is now replicated across Atlantic Health System.

“Introducing beehives to the campus has allowed us to sustainably and locally source products for purchase at our facility,” says Bonassisa. To help the beehives continue to thrive, they partner with local arboretum Greenwood Gardens.

Overlook runs “The Bee Healthy Program,” which teaches children in local schools and day cares the importance of the honeybee and its role in creating healthy foods that are an important part of our diet. Children can pick food from the hospital’s pollinated community garden and learn how to prepare a healthy meal. Each child is sent home with wildflower seeds to plant, which supports the local bee pollinators in their neighborhoods.

In addition to beekeeping, Overlook also has its own chickens, which provide staff with an ever-ready supply of organic eggs available for purchase.

Reducing energy & saving millions: Hackensack Meridian Health

Hackensack Meridian Health in New Jersey is partnering with its utility companies to reduce its energy footprint. Some utility companies have programs that provide the health system with the capital to upgrade its infrastructure. This partnership allows the health system to reduce its energy consumption, as well as run its facilities better and more efficiently. Facilities pay the energy companies back only a percentage of the money received through energy savings on their bills.

Kyle Tafuri
Kyle Tafuri

“Hospitals are all strapped, so it’s tough to get money for infrastructure,” says Kyle Tafuri, Director of Sustainability for Hackensack Meridian Health. “But our utility companies are helping us reduce energy consumption, and it’s saving us money because we’re putting in more energy-efficient equipment.” Tafuri says that just last year, Hackensack Meridian Health was able to secure close to $30 million through energy-efficiency work, primarily for just seven of its hospitals.

Partnership is what sustainability is all about, says Tafuri.

“We can’t do this all on our own, so we need to partner with our community, HealthTrust’s energy team, our utilities and other health organizations to be successful.” HealthTrust congratulates all of the Practice Greenhealth winners.

For a full list of member winners, visit HealthTrust Members Recognized for Environmental Excellence.

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