ThedaCare's sustainability effort making an impact

Going green — we hear this often, but what does it really mean? For ThedaCare, it means changing the way we think about how we use resources, and making small changes that have a big impact on the health of the community and on our bottom line. As a business with seven hospitals, 35 clinics and almost 7,000 employees, we see a lot of value in getting on board the sustainability train.

Just two years ago, ThedaCare established a department on sustainability. We are already on track to recoup a $1.9 million energy efficiency investment this year. Our effort is led by Paul Linzmeyer, and his department's mission is linked to ThedaCare's mission — to improve the health of our communities. Paul often reminds me that we have an obligation to greatly reduce or eliminate our energy, waste and water footprint. As a part of our emphasis, we've expanded the department to include a newly created position of sustainability coordinator (our new coordinator, Maggie Hintz-Polzin, also is a nurse with expertise in sustainability), and each of our major facilities will soon have a Green Team. The teams will be responsible for making corporate sustainability goals local.

I'm proud to note our early efforts have been recognized by several awards, including honors from Practice Green Health, VHA, EPA LEAP program, Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council, including its Green Masters award, and UW-Green Bay. These recognitions affirm our direction.

If your company is looking for simple ways to better use resources, Paul tells me a good place to start is to look at your energy bill. Making changes to lighting can help decrease that cost. Using timers or motion sensors, turn off lights (and computers) when not in use. Replace old light bulbs with newer, more efficient bulbs.

Then, look at what's lurking in your lunchroom. Is that refrigerator in the corner where your employees store their lunches more than ten years old? Trading in an old appliance for a new Energy Star rated one will result in energy savings.

Don't forget the outside of your facility. Small changes can also impact your bottom line and your employees' health. Instead of a lush lawn achieved through the use of harmful fertilizers and pesticides that contribute to asthma and other health conditions, consider using lower impact plantings. Think about changing the parking lot and exterior lights to highly efficient LED fixtures. You'll increase security, and achieve cost savings in terms of both energy use and maintenance.

These are some of the changes we've made, and we're making more. To stay current, we've joined the Wisconsin Sustainable Business Council so we can learn from our peers. We also participate in Focus on Energy, a statewide energy efficiency and renewable resource program that offers information, resources and financial incentives.

Our focus on sustainability is also creating jobs. We hired summer interns – local college students who are majoring in environmental programs — to help conduct what we called a "dumpster dive." It's not what it sounds like. We took all the waste that would have gone in a dumpster and set it outside the dumpster. The interns analyzed the different types of waste and researched alternative methods of disposal, including recycling. The outcome of that experiment helped us divert 80 tons of waste from the landfill. It also saved us tipping fees.

We're looking at other ways to reduce energy and water consumption. Sure, we've received awards for our efforts, but the real reward is helping improve the health of our community. We see the adverse health consequences of an unhealthy environment — asthma, emphysema, carcinogens, skin and eye irritants, and more. We're committed to doing our part. I know you're active in this area, too. We're eager to learn from you, and glad to share our ideas. It's the sustainable way to do business.

— Dr. Dean Gruner is president and CEO of Appleton-based ThedaCare. To send your thoughts to Gruner, email

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