Shades of Green
Date: April 1, 2010
Hospital employees champion efforts to make the earth better.
Editor’s Note: Chris Seale, director for the Department of Environmental Services, who is featured in this story, tragically and suddenly died before this issue was published. This article is dedicated to his memory and his many contributions to the institution.
Every workplace needs a steward of the environment like Laura Gerafentis. The risk management coordinator for The Johns Hopkins Hospital, Gerafentis works a second, volunteer job as a green champion, representing her legal department on all things recyclable, sustainable and environmentally friendly.
She reports to her nearly 50 co-workers on the progress of Hopkins’ Green Team and its growing efforts to conserve energy and recycle everything from paper to eye glasses to computers. She shares Green Team updates at her department’s meetings and in its newsletter and remains active in Earth Day activities, volunteering, for example, to work the Farmers’ Market that was started last year next to the Outpatient Center. “My proudest moment was the market day. That has taken off so well,” says Gerafentis.
Building a network of green champions like Gerafentis will be crucial to making the Green Team truly representative of Hopkins’ employees, says Shirley Purvis, who heads their champions program.
Purvis began reaching out to people to fill the role in February, and she already has 30 volunteers who represent 1,700 employees from across the institution. “It’s more of an educational thing, getting the word out on policies in work areas,” Purvis explains. “This really will make the Green Team run more efficiently.
Purvis has prepared a wealth of educational materials listing tips and rules about recycling, conserving electricity, carpooling and using online forms to save paper—all of which green champions can use in their areas.
Like many in the green movement, Purvis feels a personal stake in her efforts to make Hopkins a more sustainable place to work. “I want to preserve the earth. I may never see the results of this, but somewhere down the road it’s going to make a difference,” she says.
The green champions program has taken off as the hospital’s Green Team enters its third year under the direction of its founders, Colleen Cusick, acting director of Materials Management, and Chris Seale, director for the Department of Environmental Services.
Until 2008, the hospital, unlike the school of medicine, was slow to jump on the green bandwagon—until two things struck Cusick. “First, we put out an awful lot of waste,” she says. Second, we heard stories of people carrying stuff home (to recycle). I thought, “We shouldn’t be doing that. We all need to be stewards of our environment.”
The first order of recycling business, according to Seale, was to separate regular paper from medical waste.
He discovered that 90 percent of normal solid waste was going into regulated medical waste. “We pay a significant amount of money for that,” he says. “So we developed a plan to segregate that waste and hired contractors to recycle paper, plastic and glass.”
Getting departments to separate recyclables from the medical trash has resulted, Seale conservatively estimates, in medical waste being reduced by 1,412,444 pounds, or 706 tons.
And since the recycling program began in December 2008, the hospital has recycled 596,016 pounds of material, averaging 46,000 to 50,000 pounds a month. The goal, Seale says, is to get to 75,000 pounds a month.
The Green Team’s goals are not unrealistic. In the five years since the medical school began its own program, it has recycled 743 tons of material, says Rich Sebour, the school’s director of support services in Facilities Management. He notes that the annual amount of recycled material began as 61 tons in 2005. This year, he said, the school is on target to recycle 241 tons.
The school of medicine recently received the university’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) commercial interior silver certification for its green renovation of the Department of Facilities Management offices and Clinical Information Systems Education Center.