Friday, June 13, 2008

Four friends find savings in carpooling

Deanna House of Food and Nutrition Services has some simple advice for anyone considering saving money by sharing rides to work: “Try it, you might like it.”

She and three of her neighbors who work in Purchasing, Janice Pride, Deb Powell and Anna House, have made carpooling a habit over the last few years. They say sharing the ride in from Billings has added money to their household budgets while reducing the number of cars on the road.

Anna and Janice originally started riding together in the spring of 2005, when gasoline was approaching what now seems like a bargain: $1.50 a gallon. By 2006, Deb and Deanna had joined in, taking turns driving the group to work and back.

“We had talked about it before, but when gas first started going up, we decided we needed to do this,” Deanna says.

The group says that while the environmental benefits are a nice side effect, the financial incentive was key to getting everyone on board.

“We’re four cheap women,” Deb says, laughing. She’s quickly corrected by Anna, who prefers the term “frugal.”

Depending on who is getting picked up, the trip is about 26 miles each way. All four women work the same shifts and they take turns driving to spread out the cost of gas.
“When I drove by myself, I was spending $60 per week,” Deb says. “Now, I usually spend about $20 per week.”

The group says carpooling is a lot easier than one might think. The group keeps in touch about their schedules and they make adjustments when someone can’t ride or needs to make a stop at the grocery store or pharmacy.

“Most people think they have too much going on to do it,” Deb says. With a little planning, though, the group has accommodated family schedules by doing things like dropping one another off at children’s sporting events. “Everything we do is between Springfield and Billings, so it’s not that hard.”

But what about giving up the 25 minutes of private time each way that their commutes used to provide?

“Well, we’ve never had a fight or anything!” Deanna says with a laugh.

“Unless it’s about the temperature of the car,” Deb grins.

“You may be used to driving by yourself, but the cost savings really offsets that,” Anna says.

All four of the women have noticed a savings not just on gas but in reduced wear and maintenance on their vehicles. They say it’s a good feeling knowing that they’re reducing the number of cars on the road during rush hour and freeing up parking spaces at work.

“Most cars you pass on the road have one person, but we look like a school bus!” Deb says. “If we could fit more people in, we would.”

Finding new ways to 'do no harm'

When it comes to caring for the environment, CoxHealth is taking steps to become a leader in good stewardship.

With an employee base the size of many Ozarks towns, there is plenty of room for even small changes to make a big impact on the environment and on the organization’s bottom line.

To pioneer those changes, CoxHealth recently formed the Environmental Leadership Council. The group will focus on practical ways to make the hospital more environmentally friendly – both through system-wide efforts and by cultivating the support of individual staff members who may want to change their own habits to be more “green.”

The council, which was formed early this spring, resulted in part from ongoing efforts to make Cox’s new facilities environmentally sustainable. The council’s 15 representatives from throughout the system are led by co-chairs Shana Tauai, director of support services at Hulston Cancer Center, and Collin Sherick, director of Environmental Services.

Tauai and Sherick are well versed in dealing with environmental challenges: Tauai’s master’s thesis dealt with environmental sustainability in hospitals and Sherick and his staff see firsthand the amount of waste the hospital produces.

The pair work closely with Rod Schaffer, vice president of Facility Services and one of the originators of the idea for an environmental council.

As Schaffer attended meetings on how to make new facilities sustainable, he began thinking about what Cox could be doing now to make changes in the hospital’s current facilities. Some of those changes, including the addition of an environmentally friendly floor covering on the skywalk and a switch to “greener” paper towels, have already been put in place.

“Health care has some of the greatest opportunities to make a positive impact on the environment for patients, staff and our community,” Schaffer says. “Creating a health-based agenda for green operations throughout our facilities is a defining facet of excellence, quality and leadership.”

Narrowing down those opportunities and working on steps to take advantage of them are among the council’s first tasks.

“It can be hard to know where to start, there’s so much,” Sherick says.

At the council’s second meeting, members decided to focus first on the paper that is discarded throughout the hospital. While cardboard is currently recycled and there are locked bins for recycling confidential paperwork on most patient floors, there is still plenty of paper waste that’s headed for the landfill rather than to a recycling center. In the coming months, the council plans to explore ways to better handle paper waste.

Progress on this and other council activities will be announced on a new Environmental Leadership Council Intraweb page that recently launched. The page is a place for employees to see what the council is working on and read tips on things they can do to be more green, both at work and at home.

The page also features a link to an online registry for employees wanting to carpool to work — an option that has a big economic benefit as well as an environmental one.

“I think the desire to be more environmentally conscious is there for sure,” Sherick says. “More people are realizing that with issues of global warming and waste disposal, if we don’t change our ways, it will have an impact on our children and grandchildren.”

Sherick says that consciousness already guides many decisions made in Environmental Services, such as a switch to green chemicals last fall. Throughout CoxHealth, many of the efficiency-boosting projects developed alongside Wellspring consultants also have the double benefit of trimming costs and reducing waste. A few examples of recent efforts:

• Cardboard from throughout the hospitals has been recycled for several years — a move that actually produces a small amount of income when material is sold to fiber companies.

• Environmental Services has switched to floor scrubbers that use concentrated chemicals and require less water.

• Lights in areas that are not occupied 24 hours a day are now connected to motion sensors, allowing them to be off when no one’s around.

• CoxHealth now requires vehicles waiting to make deliveries to shut off their engines, rather than idling.

• IT has been phasing out CRT monitors for computers and replacing them with energy-saving flat screen monitors.

• Bed-change policies have been modified to reduce the total amount of linens washed, and the amount of water used.

Each change makes a difference, but council leaders are well aware that there is a long way to go toward making a system the size of Cox more environmentally friendly.

To get an idea of how big the problem is for health care, consider that only the construction industry is worse in terms of landfill usage. Tauai says it is “staggering how much impact our industry is having on our environment and ultimately our health in terms of landfill usage and water and energy consumption.”

That’s something that needs to change, she says.

“Health care should be held to a higher standard in all aspects of business — from the food we serve to the way we make purchasing decisions.

“Just the things we talked about in our first meeting, focusing on paper recycling and carpooling can change the way Cox does business,” Tauai says. “This can have a positive affect on our community and our employees and it’s just the right thing to do.”

Sherick says that because of the scope of such a project, employees’ individual actions will be key to making a difference.

“People will need to look in their areas and ask ‘What can I do?’” he says. “We can make all the policies we want, but this is everyone’s responsibility.”