Gundersen Health System wins Energy-Independence Enterprise of the Year Award

middleton-digester-16RENEW Wisconsin presented Gundersen Health System with the Energy-Independence Enterprise of the Year Award at its recent RENEW Energy Policy Summit held in Madison, WI.

The award is given for outstanding leadership and effective implementation of a corporate campaign to greatly reduce fossil fuel use by a large healthcare network spanning three states and 19 counties. Six years in the making, Gundersen’s significant investments in conservation, co-generation and local clean power in Wisconsin, Minnesota, and Iowa now offset 100% of the energy consumed by all of its facilities.

Awards were presented to businesses and individuals whose achievements and vision helped lift Wisconsin’s renewable energy marketplace to new heights in 2014. “The people and companies we [recognized] are making a lasting impression on Wisconsin’s renewable energy landscape,” said RENEW Wisconsin Executive Director Tyler Huebner. “We at RENEW are honored to have the opportunity to work closely with these award winners and take inspiration from their ongoing commitment to advancing clean energy here,” Huebner said.

Jeff Rich, executive director of  Envision®, Gundersen’s energy program, accepted the award on behalf of Gundersen. “We are honored to once again be acknowledged by RENEW WI with this award.  We believe that our energy program is the right thing to do to help keep healthcare affordable, reduce harmful emissions, and improve the economy of the communities we serve.  Hopefully our example can inspire other organizations and individuals to take steps toward a cleaner, more self-sufficient future,” said Jeff.

The photo above is of Envision’s dairy digester project in Middleton, WI, one of the many projects that helped Gundersen reach energy independence.

Learn about Envision’s journey to energy independence at

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Gundersen Health System joins White House climate effort

Dr.Thompson in DCGundersen Health System CEO Jeffery Thompson, MD, was recently invited to the White House to join senior White House officials and healthcare leaders from across the country to discuss sustainability efforts and resilience to extreme weather events and other impacts of climate change.

Pictured above at the White House conference are U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Syliva Mathews Burwell (center), Gundersen Health System CEO Jeffery Thompson, MD, (left) and Seema Wadhwa (right), Inova Health System.

Gundersen Health System is one of 12 healthcare organizations in the U.S. to commit to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Sustainable and Climate Resilient Health Care Facilities initiative, part of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.

Others involved include the Cleveland Clinic, Kaiser Permanente, Partners HealthCare, Virginia Mason Health System, University Hospital, Dignity Health, Ascension Health, Inova Health Systems, Intermountain Healthcare, Tenet Health and ThedaCare.

Gundersen reaches energy independence goal
In 2008, Dr. Thompson set a goal for the organization to control rising energy costs and improve the health of the communities it serves. It focused on two main initiatives–reducing consumption by improving efficiency and creating cleaner energy. On October 14, 2014, Gundersen used more energy than it consumed, becoming the first healthcare system in the country to attain energy independence.

“We set out to make the air better for our patients to breathe, control our rising energy costs, and help our local economy…. We believe we have made more progress on all three than anyone else in the country,” said Thompson. He adds, “Gundersen has shown that you can be financially disciplined, improve the local economy, and positively impact the environment.”

For more on Gundersen’s sustainable, resilient business practices, visit

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Let Envision help you achieve your energy goals

Whether you’re just launching your sustainability program or are ready to take it to the next level, Envision can help!

During the journey toward energy independence, the Gundersen Envision team gained valuable knowledge – knowledge that we can pass on to other organizations, like yours!

Our consulting service is aimed at helping you achieve success and avoiding costly mistakes. We can show you how developing or enhancing a portfolio of sustainability projects can help lower costs while improving the health of the communities you serve.

Our energy check-up will help you:

  • Uncover a number of quick-payback energy conservation measures in your organization.
  • Make simple changes that will result in a 10% energy savings in one year.
  • Reduce fossil fuel demand.
  • Lessen your organization’s environmental footprint.

Don’t miss the opportunity to learn directly from the team setting the standards. Contact us today to start turning your energy goals into reality.

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Gundersen reaches first days of energy independence

First health system in nation to achieve this distinction

LA CROSSE WI–Gundersen Health System achieved its first days of energy independence, becoming the first health system in the nation to attain the distinction. Oct. 14, 2014 was the first day that Gundersen produced more energy than the health system consumed.

In 2008, Dr. Jeff Thompson, Gundersen CEO, set a goal for the organization to control rising energy costs and improve the health of the communities it serves. They focused on two main initiatives–reducing consumption by improving efficiency and creating cleaner energy.


“We did not set out to be the greenest health system,” says Dr. Thompson. “We set out to make the air better for our patients to breathe, control our rising energy costs and help our local economy. We believe we have made more progress on all three than anyone else in the country.”

Gundersen’s accomplishments include energy efficiency improvement of over 40% resulting in annual financial savings of nearly $2 million from conservation alone. Regional partnerships in energy creation include dairy digesters, wind turbines, and a landfill gas-to-energy initiative. Local projects also include geothermal energy and a biomass boiler. “We are keeping nearly 477,000 pounds of particulates out of the atmosphere each year,” adds Dr. Thompson.

“We set our sights on a goal that had never been achieved.  And while we are a national leader, we still have work to do,” says Jeff Rich, executive director of Envision®, Gundersen’s energy subsidiary. “We have crossed the threshold to energy independence. It’s like breaking the sound barrier. We were the first to do it and it’s pretty astounding. Our next chapter will be to turn the days into months and years.”

Producing more clean energy than they use has been a challenge and a moving target. Hospitals typically use two and a half times more energy than commercial buildings. Wisconsin has one of the most energy-intensive climates in the nation. Also, since the goal was set, expansion has occurred within Gundersen, including construction of two new hospitals (a 25 percent increase in space). “We have shown that you can be financially disciplined, improve the local economy and positively impact the environment,” adds Dr. Thompson.

To learn more about Gundersen’s sustainability efforts, visit

About Gundersen Health System

Gundersen Health System is a non-profit, comprehensive integrated healthcare network headquartered in La Crosse, Wis. Gundersen’s more than 6,000 employees serve 19 counties in western Wisconsin, southeastern Minnesota, and northeastern Iowa. Their network includes a multi-specialty group medical practice, teaching hospital, regional community clinics, regional hospital and clinic partners, behavioral health services, vision centers, pharmacies, and air and ground ambulances.

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Turbine power collector system

Transporting turbine power to grid1Transporting turbine power to grid2

An unseen but important part of a wind project is transporting the power created from a turbine to the point of interconnection with the local grid.  These photos were taken at Gundersen Health System’s Cashton, WI, wind project.

The turbine foundations at this site were poured, cured, and backfilled in November, 2011, in preparation for a spring delivery of the turbines.  This avoided costly winter construction and assisted the project with a quicker construction cycle once the turbines arrived.  When the foundations were ready, the power collector system and substation upgrade began.

A late and mild winter allowed trenching for the collector system cable to occur in December, 2011.  These cables are buried below the frost line 4 to 5 feet underneath the surface.  Proper design specifications and methods were followed to ensure that the electrical system would be robust and have appropriate safety features.   Particular attention was paid to proper system grounding, power monitoring instrumentation, and minimizing the possibility of leaks or “stray voltage”.

Once a turbine is erected the power created from the generators is sent down the tower to a pad mount transformer which raises the power to a higher voltage.  It will then be sent through cables to the point of interconnection which is usually a substation on the local distribution or transmission system.  At the substation, the power is “stepped-up” once more to a voltage that matches the local grid requirement.  Also at that point, the power is metered for payment by the interconnecting utility customer.

Gundersen Envision can help you with renewal energy projects. Learn how at


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Vending machine lamps: A source of wasted energy


These vending machine photos were taken at night. Can you see the wasted energy? Most vending machines have lamps that are used to attract people to their products yet they really aren’t needed and are a source of wasted energy … particularly at night when fewer people are around to see or purchase their products. This wasted energy is often produced with combustion of fossil fuels, which costs money, can cause disease, and harms the environment. If someone wishes to purchase products from the vending machine an overhead light can be switched on manually or with an occupancy sensor to accommodate the user. Vending machines can be de-lamped and are an easy way to reduce this waste and save on energy dollars.

Learn more about energy conservation and how a Gundersen Envision energy expert can help your organization become more energy efficient at

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Paving the road to wind project sites

Learn about other Envision renewable energy projects at


Most people don’t associate road construction with a wind turbine project however it is a key factor in transporting the equipment to the project site, maneuvering components during the construction phase, and servicing the turbines once production begins. These photos were taken on the same corner of a rural road near the Gundersen Envision Lewiston, MN, wind project site.

As you can see from the photo on the right, commercial turbine tower sections and blades are very long and require special trailers to haul them over the road. Some components, such as the gear box and rotor hub may not be as long but are extremely heavy. Properly transporting these large pieces of equipment will often require a turning radius at intersections to be constructed so the truck and trailer can negotiate a corner.

Routes are predetermined months in advance of the construction project. State Department of Transportation permits are required as well as local township permits and possibly Department of Natural Resource permits. Local police may be required to help safely control traffic challenges and often, moves may be made at night when traffic congestion is less of an issue. A seasoned wind turbine manufacturer and your project developer should have experience managing these permits and the logistics required to transport the necessary equipment to the project site.

Townships may also require the project owner to secure a road bond to cover any potential damages that may occur to local roads during the construction of the project.  At this particular intersection, excavation was required as well as backfill, culvert, and crushed gravel. In this case, it was necessary to develop a plan to prevent soil erosion and adjust signage at the intersection. Once all of the equipment was on site, the road construction crew restored the intersection back to its original condition and removed the temporary road materials. Occasionally, it may also be necessary to move power lines or other utilities in the location. These are all factors that are considered in planning an appropriate route and minimizing costs to the project.

The turbine site also requires road building. Each turbine needs an access road to move cranes and other service equipment to the turbine. A crane pad, that can support a massive crane that will lift the components of the turbine during erection, must be placed next to each turbine. Additionally, a lay down area for storing the components during the construction is needed, in addition to space for construction trailers, crew vehicles, etc. Once the turbines are erected and the large crane moves offsite, the lay down area, crane pad, and vehicle parking areas are removed and the land restored to its original state.

In most cases, this work is taking place on rural, agricultural property. The property owner is typically reimbursed for crop losses during the construction process on a per acre basis and appropriate crop pricing. In addition, most land lease agreements for turbine sites compensate the land owner for the access road acreage that must remain to service the turbines during production.

Learn about other Envision renewable energy projects at

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Hand drying alternatives


These photos are from public restrooms and show several alternatives for hand drying. Each solution has its pros and cons and consideration should be given for the proper method to suit the intended purpose.

The photo on the left shows a common paper towel dispenser where a stack of folded paper towels is dispensed one at a time in a similar fashion to a tissue box. Often, the towels will pull out in a bunch and drop into the waste receptacle or worse, on the floor as you can see in the photo. This method has several significant disadvantages. First, the towels must be loaded manually and the paper waste removed, which can consume significant labor from cleaning crews. In addition, the paper uses a significant amount of fossil fuels and electricity in the processing of pulp wood into paper, packaging, and transport to the point of use. Furthermore, the paper is disposed in the trash and will end up in a landfill.  In restrooms with large volumes, the paper waste can be significant. Its advantage is that it has an economical upfront cost.

The center photo shows an automatic paper towel dispenser that utilizes a roll of paper. This solution has the advantage of a hands-free touch-free sensor for dispensing the towel in a predetermined length appropriate for the need, thus reducing paper.  It is also a less energy intensive way to produce and package the paper. The towels can still require significant fossil fuel to harvest, produce, and transport, and the towels can still end up on the floor.

The photo on the right shows an electric hand dryer using a high speed air stream to evaporate the water from hands. While this solution does use fossil fuel electricity, the power is only used for a brief time and is more efficient in saving energy costs and has less impact to the environment. These new models of air dryers are much better at drying than the older versions that heated hands rather than forcing water from hands. Some disadvantages are that they have a significant upfront cost which may be prohibitive unless used for high volume restrooms. Other disadvantages are potential splatter of water droplets and their noise level.

There are several hand drying solutions available today and the factors for consideration are upfront cost, labor intensity, fossil fuel use, disposal costs, infection control, noise, and mess. Think carefully about your intended application and the proper balance of these solutions.

Visit to see how Gundersen Health System’s Envision can help you with your energy conservation and sustainability program.

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Nursing and climate change: Recycling

recycling 3Gundersen Health System nurses are undertaking a project to take the sustainability and environmental practices they use at work (through the guidance of the Envision program) home with them to broaden the impact Gundersen’s nurses can make on the environment. After targeting nurses, the project will go system wide!

One of the most widely utilized and available methods of environmental stewardship is recycling. Knowledge is power when it comes to recycling. In single stream recycling, placing the wrong item into the stream can prevent other items from being recycled. Also, throwing something into a landfill that could have been recycled is counterproductive. Get to know your town’s recycling program. If you aren’t sure where to start, and you live in the La Crosse area, look here:

Recycling doesn’t just mean putting a can in the recycling bin either! You can “recycle” used items by donating to various places like Salvation Army. These are also places to think about making purchases for items that don’t need to be brand new. Why waste all the packaging and resources that are put into a brand new item, when the same gently used item serves the same purpose? Here are some ideas for places to check out:

Learn about other Gundersen Envision initiatives at

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Nursing and climate change: You can make an impact

Lightbulb charge

Earlier this month Tom Thompson, Gundersen Health System’s sustainability coordinator, and Phoebe Breed, RN, Surgical and Digestive Care Unit, presented at the all RN/LPN staff meeting about Gundersen’s nursing and climate change grant.

The goal of the winning grant proposal is to apply some of the same sustainability and environmental practices nurses use at work (through the guidance of Envision) in their homes to broaden the impact Gundersen’s nurses can make on the environment.

Here are suggestions for implementation at home.

  • Unplug older appliances or use a power strip for a more convenient “turn off” option.
  • Turn off the lights when you don’t need them! One light on for eight hours each day can cost up to $20 in one year.
  • Change your light bulbs. You can save $135 in the lifetime of an LED Energy Star certified light bulb compared to incandescent light bulbs.

See how you can make a difference.

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