FM Articles

Sustainability Plus New Technology


The healthcare industry has been slower than many others in adopting green and sustainability initiatives. The hospitality industry, in contrast, got on board with environmental responsibility more than 25 years ago. Industry stakeholders viewed it as a way to provide their guests with rooms that were cleaner, safer, and healthier. Further, they were responding to corporate customers looking for vendors who shared similar environmental concerns. Hotel properties started realizing tangible cost savings by adopting sustainability measures.

This progress has not been the case in healthcare, as their facilities in general are much more complex than hotels and they are used by far more people who present a wider range of needs. Healthcare administrators grapple with competing priorities, and they frequently do not have the funding or the staff necessary to embrace fully environmental initiatives. Further, they are required by law to use certain types of cleaners and disinfectants, many of which are not environmentally friendly. The good news is that even with some major obstacles, the industry is evolving. Although healthcare facilities may be behind some other sectors on these dimensions, they are moving forward and have begun to make significant progress.

The move toward sustainability is welcome news for the millennial generation – people born between 1980 and 1996 – now working in the healthcare industry. Generally, turnover among millennials is high, but healthcare facilities have reduced this turnover through their green initiatives, as well as their use of new technologies, such as dashboard systems and engagement tools.

Monitoring Sustainability
Many healthcare facilities now use dashboard systems that help them monitor and measure their use of energy, water, fuel, and waste generation. Managers can learn how much water or energy their facility consumes on a daily, monthly, quarterly, and annual basis. They can then compare these results to other similarly sized facilities to see how well, or not so well, they are doing in comparison.

Once facilities do begin their sustainability programs, dashboard systems can also help administrators document their improvement. Most initially begin with the “low-hanging fruit.”  For instance, they may transfer from traditional lighting systems to LED lighting, which typically is not a major investment when compared to other upgrades. LED bulbs last much longer than incandescent or even fluorescent bulbs, and the fixtures use far less energy than traditional fixtures. This reduces energy consumption, sometimes considerably. As this happens, it will be noted on the dashboard for administrators to see and evaluate.

It is important to note though, that in most cases, that is as far as it goes. Building administrators and engineers may be jubilantly aware of their success in saving energy, but no one else knows about it because they don’t share the information. Further, even if staff and others are given the information, it is often presented in incomprehensible ways. What does it mean to report to staff that their facility has reduced energy consumption from 97.2 British thermal units (BTUs) to 90.2 BTUs? In most cases, not much. More likely, the first question they will ask is, “What is a BTU?”

So, what is the answer? The more effective option is to use a relatively new technology that connects the dots supplied by the dashboard system and presents the data in a more tangible manner on large TV monitors throughout the facility. For example, if the facility has reduced energy consumption to 90.2 BTUs from a high of 97.2 BTUs, engagement tools will indicate that this is a large enough energy savings to power approximately 140 homes. That message becomes concrete information everyone can relate to, and this is where millennials come into the picture.


These younger workers want transparency, far more than previous generations had been provided. They are already sustainability focused and tech savvy, and they have clear expectations in this area for their employers. Cone Communications in their 2016 study of millennial employment engagement, found:

  • Approximately 64 percent of millennials consider an organization’s social and environmental commitments before deciding to work for that organization.
  • More than 70 percent report that they would be more loyal to an organization, if it were socially and environmentally focused, similar to their own values.

Millennials are on the cusp of outnumbering baby boomers as this country’s largest living and working age group, according to a March 2018 study by Pew Research. Because many older workers in healthcare are beginning to retire, this could also mean that millennials will likely make up the majority of the healthcare workforce within the next 10 years.

Being in high demand is one of the reasons why millennials have no fear of changing jobs and tend to do so frequently. This turnover is disruptive to a healthcare facility, adding to overall operational costs. Employee retainment affects not only financials but can also impact patient satisfaction. Engagement tools may be one way to slow down turnover and, taking this a step further, attract younger people to work for an organization in the first place.

Millennials wanting to work in green and sustainable facilities is not enough to make the necessary changes. Administrators need to effectively communicate these environmental changes to their staff. The use of engagement tools allows them to do just that. The employees can see precisely how a building is performing and the steps their employer is taking to protect the environment. This notable commitment is crucial to a growing millennial workforce and employee retention.

Katrina Saucier is program manager for Sustainability Dashboard Tools, LLC, which measures, monitors, reports, and helps visualize sustainability information for building owners, managers, and users. She identifies as a Xennial – born on the cusp of the Gen X/ Millennial generations. She can be reached at

Cone Communications. (2016). 2016 Cone Communications millennial employee engagement study. Boston, MA: Author.
Bae, S.-H., Mark, B., & Fried, B. (2010). Impact of nursing unit turnover on patient outcomes in hospitals. Journal of Nursing Scholarship 42(1), 40-49.