Health Care and Sustainability

Metro Health shares step-by-step approach to sustainability

September 12, 2014
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Metro Health facade
Metro Health Hospital's rooftop garden is the second-largest green roof in Michigan. Courtesy Metro Health

Metro Health landed on the 101 Best & Brightest Sustainable Companies in Michigan list for the third year in a row this year, which is no surprise given it’s currently celebrating the 10th year of its sustainability journey.

Metro Health was one of only four hospitals statewide to receive the award, which is sponsored by the Michigan Business and Professional Association.

Metro formalized its efforts toward becoming a sustainable hospital in 2004, and Robert VanRees, director of facility and support services for the hospital, said Metro took a one step at a time approach to building its sustainability program.

Today, the hospital boasts successes in recycling, storm-water management, green cleaning and healthy food initiatives, among other sustainability categories.

The first initiative the hospital undertook was to incorporate recycling. The task was handed to John Ebers, who was an intern at the time and now is the associate director of facility engagement and energy program for national sustainability nonprofit Practice GreenHealth.

Ebers was instructed to “do something green and make sure it doesn’t cost anything,” said Ellen Bristol, director of internal communications and public relations at Metro.

“He was a dynamic intern, really engaging,” Bristol said. “People wanted to talk to him and he was passionate about it. He was really instrumental in helping get people engaged.”

Ebers was able to show that not only could the hospital implement a viable paper-recycling program at no cost, but also could actually save money by doing so.

Today, Metro has vastly expanded its recycling program.

“We have 17 waste streams in the hospital, from regulated medical waste to pharmaceuticals to batteries and light bulbs and other things,” VanRees said.

Any visitor or staff member who eats in the hospital cafeteria will find compost and recycling bins outnumbering trashcans when they go to discard the remnants of their meal.

Bristol said she was skeptical that the compost bins would win approval when the idea was first floated, but today she said they’ve been a huge success.

“It’s fun to watch people come over here with their trays, and they really take a look at the signs,” she explained.

She said she’s overheard people having discussions about recycling while sorting their items into the different bins, using the signs illustrating various waste products mounted above the receptacles as guides.

“Currently, we are at a 39 percent recycle rate,” VanRees said. “I think it’s best practice. I don’t know of any other hospital in the nation that has a 39 percent recycle rate. We save about $55,000 annually just by recycling and diverting things.”

Practice GreenHealth, which focuses on recognizing sustainability within the healthcare industry nationally, recognized Metro in its waste category for its recycling program.

The hospital also has had great success with its storm-water management program, which included the installation of the second largest green roof in Michigan and the largest in the country within the healthcare realm.

At 48,000 square feet, Metro’s green roof is impressive. The roof can hold up to three inches of rainfall at a time. Any water that is not held within the roof system eventually makes its way to one of three holding ponds on the Metro campus for irrigation use.

Bioswales placed throughout the parking lots also collect water and run-off pollutants.

“We are a zero discharge site, which means none of our storm water leaves this facility,” VanRees said.

One of Metro’s newest initiatives is its focus on healthy foods, which includes menu choices in the cafeteria, an onsite community garden, and a weekly summer farmers market that is now in its ninth year.

“Health care needs to deliver healthy foods to our patients, to our visitors and our employees, and give them good choices,” VanRees said. “That is something we have worked on at Metro for a few years now.”

VanRees said 95 percent of Metro’s food is cooked from scratch, and whenever possible Chef Ryan Reynolds uses veggies out of the community garden for the daily cafeteria options that are consumed by staff and hospital visitors.

“Chef Ryan served eggplant parmesan one day in the cafeteria, and all of the eggplant was from the garden,” Bristol noted. “We have caprese salads and other tomato salads pretty frequently right from our own garden.”

Though patients cannot have the food grown in the community garden due to food regulations, they can eat food from local farms, and Reynolds regularly buys from Visser Farms and other local farmers to get the ingredients he needs for the week.

Reflecting on 10 years of sustainability, VanRees reiterates the importance of taking things one-step at a time.

“Often what I see is other hospitals and organizations that just want to do it all,” he said. “You really can’t. You just have to start the program and really work at each thing. I encourage people to take baby steps. We started our program in 2004. It was one little thing. It was recycling white paper, and then we moved on to the next thing and the next thing, and then we improved upon the successes.”

He said community support has been vital to Metro’s success.

“There is no reason not to be green,” he said. “There are so many people and other organizations, contractors, that you can tap into that can make your program successful.”

While some organizations have hired sustainability executives to manage their sustainability programs, VanRees said that hasn’t really been necessary at Metro, because it’s become an ingrained part of the culture so each department is naturally considering sustainability issues alongside all the other considerations and budgeting decisions.

“We have training programs for new employees about our sustainability program and we have a green team,” he said. “I’m in the process of developing a steering group for sustainability to keep things rolling and engaged, but there isn’t one person: It’s everybody.”

He did say that, in the beginning, senior leadership was vital in getting the ball rolling.

His final message to other organizations embarking on sustainability initiatives is to “keep it simple.”

Metro will be recognized along with the other winning 101 Best and Brightest Sustainable Businesses in Michigan Sept. 16 at Davenport University, 6191 Kraft Ave. SE.

For a full list of winners, visit.

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