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Dec 22, 201412:44 PMSmart Sustainable Biz

with Jessie Lerner

Have you asked your vendors what they can do for sustainability?

(page 1 of 2)

Organizations that focus on sustainability in the workplace regularly look for ways to reduce energy use and enhance employee health. However, if your company does not depend on the kind of global/national supply chains that Walmart and other large corporations do, it’s easy to overlook sustainability opportunities and forget to ask the right questions of your vendors. Being a sustainability champion means using your sphere of influence to go beyond your organization’s walls and influence others to perform better too.

At the Dec. 3 Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council conference, Dr. Jeff Thompson, CEO of Gundersen Health System, gave the final keynote talk. Gundersen is known for its leadership in sustainability, and its hospitals and clinics recently became the first in the country to be energy-independent.

So when Gundersen set out to build its newest hospital — the Legacy Building — it wanted to be as energy-efficient as possible. The average hospital’s annual energy use is 235 kBtu/sq.ft. During the planning process for the new facility, Thompson asked the architects about their energy-use plan. They responded that they were aiming for the low 200s. Thompson wanted to push the envelope and set the goal at 115. The architects said that would be impossible.

Instead of settling for average, the CEO pressed the team to achieve that goal. He told the architects that if they couldn’t do it, he’d find someone who could. About a year after opening, the facility is now operating at around 120 kBtu/sq.ft. According to Thompson, the lesson to be drawn from that experience is, “Don’t believe that just because it hasn’t been done, you can’t do it.”

You don’t have to be a CEO to demand more from your vendors. As one of its 2013 MPower Business Champions projects, The Plaza Tavern — Madison’s first “eco-dive bar” — wanted to increase its energy efficiency. Its focus narrowed to lighting retrofits, which included replacing its fluorescent lights with LEDs and installing occupancy sensors in its walk-in coolers.


Jan 14, 2015 07:55 am
 Posted by  Kate S.

Sometimes it's what you don't know that is the most interesting. When I was completing the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council application for our Green Masters award, I decided to call one of our vendors that I normally have no interaction with. Thysse Printing handles our marketing materials, and it's not "my job" to work with them. But I gave a call and the sales rep was happy to let us know that they use soy ink and >30% recycled, compostable paper. I've had similar phone conversations with several other of our regular vendors.

The real upside is that the interaction tells them that we're serious about our commitment, and raises their own level of attention. Even when we're not setting up some kind of eco-vetting process for vendors (though we do have a purchasing policy that includes eco attention), engaging in the conversation is helpful for the community overall.

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