The Blue Wrap project

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At Gundersen Health System we use blue wrap to wrap surgical instruments and trays prior to sterilization. In the past, once the surgical instruments and trays were in the OR, they were unwrapped prior to surgery and the blue wrap was thrown away. Considering that up to 22,000 pounds of blue wrap was being used each year, there was a lot of waste being produced. One of the fixes to this problem was investing in reusable hard cases for the surgical trays. However, since this was not possible for every surgical instrument, we knew that there must be a way to reuse and recycle the blue wrap.

Blue wrap is not made of cloth, it is actually polypropylene plastic (otherwise known as a # 5 plastic). Number 5 plastics can be recycled into items such as caps for bottles or medicine bottles, however we did not want to recycle all of the blue wrap, we also wanted to reuse what we could. We formed a partnership with the Coulee Region RSVP (Retired Senior and Volunteer Program), which is made up of volunteers age 55 and over. Their volunteers handcrafted the blue wrap into items such as tote bags and aprons (as pictured above), and wheel chair and walker bags that are used in the therapy department. The program started in the summer of 2011 and it is still going strong today. By reusing blue wrap we avoid purchasing items such as tote bags, which has enabled us to save money in departments throughout the health system. The most significant savings have been in the Breast Center where we have saved approximately $4,000/ year. This money can be redirected back into patient education materials. How does the blue wrap project relate to sustainability? By reusing and recycling the blue wrap, materials are kept out of the waste stream. In addition, we developed a long-lasting partnership with a wonderful volunteer program.

We can help you create sustainability projects at your organization. Find out how.

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Aviation planning, lights, ensure aircraft safety near wind turbines

Corey Zarecki FAA Light

The photo on the left shows Corey Zarecki (Director – GL Envision Engineering and Operations) on top of the north tower nacelle on Gundersen Health System’s Cashton, WI, wind project.  He is standing next to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) light which is also shown in the right photo.  Since wind turbines are tall structures it is necessary to notify the FAA when planning a project.

As part of the permitting process for a wind turbine project, the FAA will conduct an aeronautical study to determine whether or not the turbine will present an obstruction hazard to aircraft navigation.  If the location is determined not to constitute a hazard it is still required to have the turbine properly marked and lighted to enhance visibility for pilots and reduce the likelihood of a safety incident.

For sites with multiple turbines, the FAA lights are synchronized for all turbines so the entire project blinks at the same time.  This makes the multiple turbine site less distracting to pilots and you may notice the synchronized FAA lights if you drive past or fly over a wind farm at night.  During construction and prior to power being provided to the turbine, FAA lights can be powered from an on-site generator, solar or by battery.

 

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Do you purchase bottled water? Buy a water bottle instead

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Do you drink bottled water on a daily/weekly basis? If so, is it because you have to, or is it your personal choice? If it is a personal choice, perhaps it is time for you to choose a different alternative. Bottled water is convenient and for the most part it is easy to find. However bottled water has many negative effects on the environment. Did you know that although most bottled water claims to be from fresh spring waters, about 25-40% of it comes from municipal sources (tap water)? Bottled water also produces around 1.5 million tons plastic each year which is close to 50 million gallons of oil needed to produce the plastic. Although plastic bottles can be recycled, over 80% are thrown away. This is bad for the environment because plastic takes a long time to decompose in the landfill.

What is a good alternative to bottled water? Buying reusable water bottles made of either glass, metal or even plastic. The plastic for reusable water bottles is different than the one time use bottled water because it is durable (lasts longer), dishwasher safe, and in many cases it is BPA free. Reusable water bottles are also a one-time payment, whereas bottled water has a price for every bottle purchased. But what if you don’t like the taste of the tap water at your house, or even at work? Consider getting a water filter that can be attached to your sink or one that can be stored in your fridge. This will clean the water of any impurities and in most cases improve the taste. Or try adding in natural flavors to your water such as basil, lemon, lime, or various other fruits, which will not only add a new flavor to your water but will also provide you with important nutrients for a healthy body. Bottled water may be convenient, but if we want to make a positive difference on health, costs, and the environment, it is time to discard bottled water, and turn to something that is reusable!

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Gundersen Health System and the Farm2School Program

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Gundersen Health System is an active member of the Farm2School Program. What is this program? The Farm2School program helps to build and establish partnerships between K-5th grade schools and local farmers to encourage healthy eating and proper nutrition among students and their families. This program is unique to each state and it can be found in all states. La Crosse County participates in the Farm2School program and Gundersen’s Certified Executive Chef (C.E.C) Thomas Sacksteder supports this program by visiting local schools during the school year to educate students on healthy eating and recipes. This program also includes a “Harvest of the Month” in which one local food is selected and promoted throughout schools. Chef Thomas uses the “Harvest of the Month” in the recipes he showcases to students. Chef Thomas has received many awards because of the success with the Farm2School program.

Chef Thomas also received two grants from the American Culinary Federation (ACF) “Chefs Move to Schools” program. This program enables chefs and schools to form a partnership to encourage healthy eating and proper nutrition for students. This program was started by First Lady Michelle Obama and White House Senior Policy Advisor for Healthy Food Initiatives, Sam Kass, in May, 2010. These grants have supported a project created by Chef Thomas called the “Chef Thomas Bean Challenge.” Students are given packets of beans at the start of the summer and are encouraged to plant them. In 2013 his challenge reached 5,500 students.

How does the Farm2School program relate to sustainability? The Farm2School program educates students about eating healthy local food. Showcasing local foods supports local farmers and the environment. How does this help the environment? Food purchased by local farmers does not have to travel as far, which saves fuel and energy which in turn is better for the environment. Buying local also supports the local economy and provides people with fresher food. If you are part of an institution or an individual interested in partaking in this program check out the helpful links below!

http://www.chefsmovetoschools.org/

http://www.acfchefs.org/ACF/Partnerships/ChefsMove/ACF/Partnerships/ChefsMove/

http://www.farmtoschool.org/aboutus.php

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Tips on Food Waste Reduction

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Food is the number 1 material sent to the landfill. Because of this, education on food waste reduction is essential. What can you as an individual do in order to reduce food? Here are some tips on food waste reduction:

  • Learn to properly cut fruits and vegetables to reduce scrap waste.
  • Plan meals for the week and write a grocery list of things you will need (this will help to avoid buying food on impulse).
  • Check expiration dates and use food before it expires.
  • Check your fridge temperature to ensure your food will stay fresh. The preferred temperature is between 35 and 38 degrees F (1.7 to 3.3 degrees C).
  • Clean your fridge regularly.
  • Use fruits that are going soft by making them into smoothies or pies, likewise with vegetables (make soup).
  • Use leftovers for a different meal the next day—don’t throw them away.
  • Rotate food in your cupboard (new to the back and old to the front) to properly ensure that everything is used in a timely manner.
  • Buy individual/loose fruits and vegetables instead of packaged to ensure that you are not buying more than you will eat.
  • Properly freeze food like bread to use it at a later date.
  • Start a compost pile in your backyard made up of food scraps, or try starting a neighborhood composting pile that is accessible to everyone.
  • Set goals for yourself and your family/friends—challenge yourself to reduce food waste.
  • Donate food that is still good but you know you will not use.

Not only can individuals make a difference, large organizations like hospitals can also reduce food waste. This could include conducting a food waste audit or finding the most cost efficient route for transporting and collecting food.

According to the EPA, 13% of greenhouse gases in the US are associated with growing, manufacturing, and transporting food. Even fat, oil, and grease can be turned into raw material such as soap and bio diesel. Make the landfill a last resort as pictured in the diagram above.

At Gundersen Health System, we aimed to reduce the amount of food sent in the waste stream in 2010. By measuring the amount of leftover food, we decreased food waste by 550 pounds in 7 weeks, which averaged about a 50% improvement! We also donate leftover food to the Salvation Army.

If you would like to reduce food waste, follow these tips and check out our video on properly trimming fruits and vegetables featuring Gundersen Health System Chef, Thomas Sacksteder, Certified Executive Chef (C.E.C), to learn how!

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Search for renewable energy sources close to home

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This photo shows wood chips from a saw mill in western Wisconsin that Gundersen uses as a fuel in its new biomass boiler. The biomass boiler project supplies 38 percent of the health system’s energy needs with a renewable source of energy. When you look for renewable energy sources it makes sense to search for the assets that are abundant in your region. The Upper Midwest region of the U.S. does not have oceans from which to capture tidal energy nor does it have an abundance of sunlight nor does it have geothermal steam near the surface of the earth’s crust. However, Wisconsin and neighboring states are blessed with numerous sources of biomass such as trees, grasses, animal waste, and agricultural crops.

New technologies have developed that enable cleaner combustion of biomass fuels as an alternative to fossil fuels. These fuel sources can become a significant source of renewable heat and electricity production in the United States which could allow our country to become more energy independent and reduce the negative effects of mining and burning fossil fuels.

Often, biomass fuels are commonly thought of as waste products or residues from other primary operations and can commonly be purchased at relatively low cost compared to other fuels.  For instance, this particular sawmill processes hardwood logs from western Wisconsin such as red oak, white oak, walnut, hickory, etc. The milling machinery is very efficient at producing boards of lumber from the rough logs and various byproducts such as chips, fines, sawdust, and ground bark can be recovered and utilized in a clean and productive manner. In the past, byproducts such as these may have been sold into a lower value application such as animal bedding or landscaping material. In some cases, producers may have had to pay to have the byproduct removed. Utilizing these sources of fuel can improve the economics for both the producer of the biomass fuel and for the purchaser.

Some fuels classified as biomass may present challenges to boiler equipment and/or require expensive emissions control systems. It is important to consider the sources to make sure they are free of chemicals and treatments such as glues, paints, heavy metals, varnishes, etc. to avoid challenges and expense in minimizing emissions and optimizing boiler performance. Some natural sources of biomass may also contain high levels of sulfur or alkalinity, which may present other challenges, so a thorough review of the source is necessary before launching a project.

Standards and programs have also been developed in recent years to promote ethical harvesting techniques used for biomass fuels. One example is Wisconsin’s Woody Biomass Harvesting Guidelines.

A couple of  great resources for understanding the best fit for your application and gaining help for a project are the U.S. Forest Service’s Wood Energy Resource Center. 

And the U.S.D.A.’s  Biomass Crop Assistance Program.

Learn more about renewable energy by attending Envision’s Renewable Energy Project Development seminar, September 23-25. Register today!

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Going up? Take the stairs

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Taking the elevator every day is easy and requires hardly any energy…at least not on your behalf. However, taking the elevator should not become part of your everyday routine, especially if you are capable of taking the stairs. Not someone who exercises regularly? That is perfectly fine! To start, try incorporating the stairs into your daily routine at least once a day, or possibly twice a week to start and then progressively start to use them more often. What are some of the benefits you will notice once you start taking the stairs?

  • Taking the stairs challenges your muscles. Over time you will begin to notice your legs becoming more toned and your leg muscles increasing in strength.
  • The small steps add up! Taking the stairs everyday will help to improve your overall health.
  • Taking the stairs is good for your heart! It will help lower bad Cholesterol and increase “good” cholesterol.
  • There is no cost and you can take the stairs as often as you like.
  • You could be a positive example for your coworkers, family members and even your friends.
  • Reduce stress and tension and build up your energy.

How can you make this happen? Start to slowly incorporate stairs into your daily routine—make it become a natural part of your day. If you want to inspire others to take the stairs with you, advocate getting signs put up between the stairs and the elevators (otherwise known as the decision point or the place where you decide which to take). Use the signs to encourage people to take the stairs or inform them of the health benefits. If you are trying to get the most out of your stair workout, remember to take the stairs one step at a time because it will burn more calories than if you were to skip steps. Not only will taking the stairs provide you with health benefits, but you will also be saving energy by not taking the elevator. Although the energy saved will be minimal, if everyone were to take the stairs it would make a huge impact on energy savings. So make a positive impact in your life and try the stairs!

Go to www.gundersenenvision.org to learn more about energy conservation and environmental leadership.

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Think “Reuse” and save money on back to school products!

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Is your child heading back to school this year? If so, you may be bracing yourself for the high expense of school supplies. There are ways to save on school supplies though. Here are a few ideas.

Before making plans to purchase new notebooks and folders look at the ones your child used last semester. With technology becoming so prevalent, notebooks are not used as much, however teachers still ask that their students purchase them. The same applies to folders. You may be surprised to find that your child’s notebooks and folders are still in good shape with plenty of good paper still available to use. So at the end of the semester, don’t let your child throw out their notebooks and folders without looking them over.

Book covers are also becoming more prevalent. They come in many different designs and materials—but they cost money. Save and reuse paper bags, leftover wrapping paper or even a couple layers of newspapers. Pencils, pens, erasers, and markers can all most likely be reused. Most students like the idea of buying brand new items for the school year, however if they still work, save your money and ask that they reuse them. Going back to school can be less expensive if you pay attention to the products your children use, and be the judge as to whether or not they need new materials.

Reusing school products will also be beneficial toward the environment because you aren’t buying more products like paper or plastic. Why is this important? Plastic can be found in pens, folders or even calculators that students use. In order for plastic to be made, it requires oil, and oil can have negative effects on the environment including harming the atmosphere. Paper comes from trees, and trees are necessary for the environment to thrive and be healthy.

At a time when deforestation is a huge concern, it is not worth it to buy new school products when you could just reuse. Not only would this benefit your wallet but you would also be teaching your children what it means to be good stewards of their resources. So be smart and think “reuse” when it comes to school supplies.

Learn about some of the projects Gundersen Health System has implemented to save energy and money.

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Gundersen’s Envision program earns prestigious environmental award

For the eighth consecutive year, Gundersen Health System has been recognized by Practice Greenhealth for their environmental initiatives through Gundersen Envision. Gundersen was awarded with Practice Greenhealth’s most prestigious achievement award during this year’s CleanMed Conference.

During the national environmental conference for leaders in healthcare sustainability, Gundersen received the Top 25 Environmental Excellence Award, a new award in 2014, given to healthcare facilities that exemplify environmental excellence and are setting the highest standards for environmental practices in healthcare.

“Gundersen has been a leader in the healthcare sector for many years, winning Practice Greenhealth’s highest honors year after year for innovative work in sustainability,” says Lin Hill, director of awards at Practice Greenhealth. “They are unique in their renewable energy generation and have also been included in three of the new Circles of Excellence (Energy, Climate, and Green Building) which are presented for exemplary work in one area of sustainability. Gundersen excels in many other areas, including employee engagement and blue wrap reduction and reuse.”

“Being recognized as one of the top 25 healthcare systems when it comes to sustainability and environmental stewardship is a testament to our staff’s commitment to developing and maintaining sustainable programs,” says Tom Thompson, sustainability coordinator at Gundersen. “Demonstrating leadership in our community and the healthcare sector is important to us, and improving the health of our patients in the communities we serve is part of our system mission.”

Some of Gundersen’s recent notable sustainability achievements include:

  • Solid waste recycling rate of 43 percent in 2013
  • Reduced cafeteria pre-consumer food waste by more than 70 percent
  • Installed biomass boiler – 38 percent of energy independence goal
  • Dairy manure digesters installed and operating

To learn more about Gundersen’s Envision program, go to gundersenenvision.org.

 

 

         

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Triple bottom line … one step further

Triple bottom line

The triple bottom line is one of the core aspects of sustainability. This diagram shows people, profit and planet all at an equal distribution. This is because all three aspects are highly important and one is no greater than the other. These three aspects also blend with one another because in order to create a balanced world, all three need to be in sync. At Gundersen Health System we use the triple bottom as a guide for incorporating sustainability into the organization. However we have taken the triple bottom line a step further. We believe that the triple bottom line should include spiritual/core values. Why? Spirituality and core values provide us with ongoing inspiration to aspire towards excellence.

What are our values at Gundersen Health System? Our values are integrity, excellence, respect, innovation and compassion. These values inspire us to achieve our mission and vision to be a health system of excellence. These values inspire us to use sustainability as a tool to keep the triple bottom line in sync and create a better community for everyone. Any organization has the ability and potential to incorporate their own values into the triple bottom line to successfully achieve their organization’s mission. All it takes is just a little push to go one step further!

Learn more about developing a sustainability program at www.gundersenenvision.org.

 

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