The UVM Medical Center reporter Kim O’Leary interviewed Dawn LeBaron, Vice President of Hospital Services and Chair of the University of Vermont Medical Center’s Sustainability Council, about the hospital’s “green” commitment and recent environmental stewardship awards.

Why is the UVM Medical Center working to be one of the “greenest” health care organizations in the country?  

We believe this is the right thing to do.  Environmental stewardship has been a key part of our culture for more than 15 years, and the environment we live in and deliver health care in has always supported being a good neighbor.  And, with what we know about climate change in the world, this absolutely the right thing to do.  Health care organizations really have a significant environmental impact on the communities they serve and we all need to contribute to the solution.

For the second year in a row, the UVM Medical Center was selected to be in Practice Greenhealth’s “Environmental Leadership Circle”, the organization’s highest award.  What does this mean for the UVM Medical Center?

It’s a tremendous honor to be recognized out of a group of your peers nationally.  The application process is quite rigorous, and for us to be selected out of that benchmark group is very impressive to us.  It’s a culmination of the great work that goes on here; it’s a real multidisciplinary effort.

What work are we doing that you feel garnered us this recognition, as well as the 2010 Governor’s Award for Environmental Excellence in Earth Stewardship & Resource Protection?

Over the past few years, we have built flagship infrastructure programs around waste reduction, toxic use reduction, sustainable food systems, and energy conservation, which continue to be successful.  In 2009, our recycling reached 34% of our waste stream, up from 21% in 2007.  Our electrical energy use dropped 8% from FY2008 to FY2009.  Each year, we think we’ve had a great year and wonder how we will beat that next time around.  Somehow, our staff find new ways and opportunities to make that difference.

We’ve also won an award for Best Workplaces for Commuters by the National Center for Transit Research this year.  What can you tell us about the UVM Medical Center’s parking challenges and commuter programs?

We don’t have available parking on our campus for everyone who wants it, and so we prioritize for patients and visitors.  As a result, we’ve had to find alternate parking locations for many of our employees and provide shuttle services.  Though this was driven by need, it gave us the basis to encourage carpooling, shuttling, and biking to work.  We give incentives for people to share rides to work through on-site parking and gas coupons, we subsidize the Link Express from Montpelier and St. Albans, and we sell reduced-price ferry passes to employees.

So, what’s next?

The next big step is concentrating more efforts on organizational awareness around employees’ own energy efficiency and environmental stewardship practice.  In the Sustainability Council (a steering committee of leaders who enable the mission of the employee-driven “green teams”), we are looking into opportunities to educate people about what they can do to improve the carbon footprint here at the UVM Medical Center, and in their own homes.  We want people to carry those good practices into their own lives, as well.

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