Bon Secours green teams achieve lasting culture change

April 15, 2011


Green gurus at Bon Secours Health System of Marriottsville, Md., have been increasing their focus on environmental responsibility over the last several years and believe they've tapped into some key insights on how to achieve lasting change.

Their approach combines what David McCombs describes as both top-down and bottoms-up engagement. McCombs is Bon Secours' vice president of enterprise resource planning and supply chain operations.

"It's top down around activities like assessment, goals, prioritization and standardization, but it's very bottoms up about engagement of people around those goals." Green teams at Bon Secours facilities include people who are passionate environmentalists and capable of recruiting others to the cause, he said. Without this mix of planners and doers, initiatives can quickly fizzle, he said.

Broadening the mission
Bon Secours began building momentum around its greening efforts about four years ago.

Prior to that, environmentalism was important to the Sisters of Bon Secours, but it was not a top operational concern for the sisters' sponsored system, which operates 18 hospitals and a network of other care services in seven states, primarily along the east coast.

To make environmentalism a priority systemwide, Bon Secours in 2007 named Sr. Rosemary Moynihan, SC, as its first director of ecology. She'll leave that post in July when she becomes general superior of the Sisters of Charity of St. Elizabeth in Convent Station, N.J.

Reflecting on Bon Secours' transition in 2007, Sr. Moynihan said, "We got everyone thinking differently. We were saying, we're deepening our understanding of the healing mission of Jesus. We're now expanding (our understanding of who we serve) even further in our worldwide community, to understand how all of our behaviors affect what's happening to people."

To assess green efforts already under way throughout Bon Secours, Sr. Moynihan visited all of the system's main facilities. She discovered that many of them had implemented strong green programs — for instance, around recycling, waste reduction and energy conservation — but the efforts were happening in a piecemeal fashion.

"I decided that the best way to really develop this and make it sustainable was to really give people a strong platform to work from," Sr. Moynihan said.

She enlisted a group of Bon Secours leaders who were taking part in the system's mission leadership formation program to help her develop an infrastructure for a systemwide ecology program.

Green teams
The leaders, a multidisciplinary group from throughout the system, decided to establish green teams at each Bon Secours subsidiary and an umbrella green team at the system level.

Each subsidiary's team is made up of about a dozen or more employees of varying levels of seniority and from various departments. Team leaders invite people to join the group if they lead departments that are central to green efforts, or if they have expressed keen interest in grassroots environmentalism.

Each subsidiary's green team has a coordinator, who has direct access to the organization's chief executive. This coordinator also serves on the system-level team. The subsidiary and system-level groups meet at least monthly to talk through green plans and strategies, and to share what's working. 

Top priority
McCombs, who is a member of the system-level green team, said it was important from the outset for all of the green teams to integrate their work into the operations of Bon Secours and its facilities. "You have to build in and change your business model so it becomes the normal way you do things, not an add-on," he explained.

To do this, the green teams have worked with executive management to develop action plans and strategies, and to integrate them into the business operations of the system and its subsidiaries. The teams ensure that green strategies are in the dashboard reports that track all operational activities. Also, green objectives are woven into employees' and executives' job expectations and into compensation decisions.

Gaining traction in this way enabled the teams to tackle their first major area of concern: waste stream management.

For about two and a half years, the teams have been working with virtually every department at Bon Secours and its subsidiaries to analyze the waste stream and determine how to reduce waste. McCombs explained that every Bon Secours facility has been standardizing how it tracks data about waste, establishing common contracts with waste management companies and sharing ideas among the green teams about how to reduce waste.

For instance, the green teams determined that some red bag, or medical waste, receptacles were being used inappropriately. At times, pizza boxes and other recyclables were thrown into this expensive waste stream. The green teams taught colleagues about the high cost of casual misuse of the red bins and they moved the receptacles to more logical locations.

With their waste stream efforts maturing, the teams now are turning their attention to greening Bon Secours' energy systems. They're standardizing the energy-related data they use, establishing common contracts and sharing waste reduction tips, with some ideas flowing top-down and some bottoms-up.

Tie to mission
A central challenge that comes with greening an organization is changing ingrained behaviors.

"We just try to educate, educate again and reinforce what we've educated," said Karen Schwartz. She is vice president of facilities and support services for Bon Secours St. Francis Health System in Greenville, S.C., and a green team coordinator to that Bon Secours subsidiary.

Sr. Moynihan noted, "What we have found was a lot of our employees were doing more (earth-friendly activities) at home than they were doing at work, so É people were ready for this change."

Schwartz said employees identify with the mission reason for going green. "Most of our employees have selected Catholic health care over other health care environments because of the mission, and I really think that because this initiative is so intertwined with our mission, to care for God's creation, that it does help" build buy-in and change behavior.

INSIGHTS: Tips from a green guru

Bon Secours St. Francis' Karen Schwartz offers this advice for ministry organizations that are going green:

Personalize: Explain to staff how waste reduction practices and other green behaviors will benefit their departments, for instance, through cost savings.

Acknowledge success: Recognize and reward people.

Promote buzz: Use the internet, intranet, newsletters and signage to keep people thinking green.

Lighten up: Make environmentalism fun for employees.

Earth Day resources available from CHA

Celebrate Earth Day on Friday, April 22. A prayer service, pastoral reflection and other resources are available online.

Experts to talk green at assembly

Bon Secours' Karen Schwartz and David McCombs will describe Bon Secours' greening efforts during an Innovation Forum session at the Catholic Health Assembly, June 5-7 in Atlanta. The session is called "Good Health for the Good Earth: Creating a Greening Program in Catholic Health Care." Information on the assembly program and registration are available online.


Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States
For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3477.

Copyright © 2011 by the Catholic Health Association of the United States

For reprint permission, contact Betty Crosby or call (314) 253-3490.