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Sentara hires its first-ever sustainability director

Sentara's new sustainability director, Lisa Darger. (Image courtesy of Sentara)
Sentara's new sustainability director, Lisa Darger. (Image courtesy of Sentara)

Sentara Health hired its first-ever sustainability director in December. Lisa Darger has been on the job for 6 weeks. WHRO caught up with her to talk about her plans for the position.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


WHRO: Let's start with a little about your position. What is a sustainability director? What do they do?

Lisa Darger: There are generally two sides to sustainability. One involves hard metrics where we measure our greenhouse gas inventory and electric usage. Supply chain, purchases, procurement, fleet management. All of those hard, measurable types of things.

Then we have what I term the "warm and fuzzy" side of sustainability. It's the engagement of employees and the community to help people understand how small things in their day-to-day lives can make an impact on our environment. The healthier our planet, that means our patients are living in a more healthy environment.

WHRO: Why does Sentara want to hire a sustainability director now?

LD: I think there's a multitude of factors that just really came together. The timing seems to be perfect. We do have a new president who has his own vision of one Sentara, and part of that is one sustainable Sentara.

Managing an organization, looking at costs, looking at how you do business, looking at how you engage your employees and then how you engage with your community, sustainability is definitely a thread.

WHRO: What's Sentara's biggest energy consumer?

LD: Hospitals and our MOBs, our non-hospital institutions. Electricity would be the biggest factor, over 50% of our overall carbon footprint.

WHRO: Are you trying to change practices around it?

LD: We're considering, right now, electrifying some of our internal fleet. We have over 300 vehicles. Other things like, you know, supply chain purchases.

The biggest part of that electricity is heating and cooling. There are standards for patient care that we have to maintain consistently. There are large pieces of equipment that have to operate 24/7. But there are some areas where you can still reduce your electric demand.

WHRO: Cutting energy use is sustainable, but doesn't it also save money? Talk to me a little about the financial aspect of your job.

LD: Reducing your cost, reduces your operating costs, which means that you in turn can put more resources into the vital service lines, which is patient care.

For example, if we reduce our energy costs, let's say by switching out to LED lighting, you're not compromising patient care, temperature or anything like that, but you are saving bottom line dollars. So in turn, you can reinvest that, for example, in emergency preparedness.

That money can be used to ensure that all of our generators are secured in case we have a weather disaster. Moving equipment up to higher floors so they're not affected by flooding. It allows you more flexibility in how you use resources.

WHRO: How does your new position impact patient care?

LD: This job is really, in a lot of ways, a behind-the-scenes sort of position. Anything that anyone does to improve our natural environment improves patient health. Air quality is a direct factor and influence on asthma. You know, there are multitudes of examples out there. So anything I can do to reduce our carbon footprint has an indirect impact, positive impact, on health care.

The world changes fast.

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