Greener Mayo

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Yesterday evening I got a phone call from an administrator at the Mayo Clinic Hospital in Phoenix in response to the letter I sent in a few weeks ago, expressing my concerns about Mayo's seemingly nonexistent environmental policies. I neglected to note the name of the administrator, which I suppose is just as well, as his identity doesn't really matter; what matters is what he told me. He said he had called me because it seemed easier than writing a letter, and as he was still at work at 7 p.m. on a Tuesday, I have no problem understanding why he would want to save a little time.

What he had to say was pretty reassuring overall. I wasn't so thrilled when he explained that Mayo discourages people from using the stairs because a few patients have tried to use the stairs, then fallen down and broken stuff. OK, I don't want sick people falling down and injuring themselves either, but I still don't see why signs leading to the stairs can't be available for others. Or why there can't be a sign requesting that patients use the elevators, out of concern for their well-being, but for anyone else who wants to take the stairs, well, hey, they're right over here.

But he told me that Mayo does a lot of recycling; it just happens behind the scenes. He said that at one time there had been bins in the cafeteria, but people hadn't sorted properly--which is essential to effective recycling--so now most of the recycling happens after the trays are returned. (Make a note of that: if you ever go to Mayo, send all your plastic back on your tray; don't throw it away.) He told me that they recycled vast quantities of paper, metal, glass and plastic--as much waste as possible that they themselves, rather than visitors to their facilities, produce.

He also said that Mayo had been working with manufacturers and suppliers to reduce packaging. "We've had a lot of success in getting them to cut the amount of styrofoam they use," he said. He also said that one thing Mayo is aggressively pursuing is returning to the previous way of approaching hospital supplies, which is that they will be used more than once. We discussed the fact that fifty years ago, most things were created to last as long as possible, and be reused as much as possible, from cups to thermometers to basins to vomit in--you just sterilized them between uses. He said that Mayo is trying to return to this model, but that there was resistance among the public, because people see it as unsanitary.

"I'm thrilled to hear all of this," I said, "and I wish you every success with everything. But can I ask why you don't publicize your green efforts?"

"Part of it is the resistance to reusing hospital supplies that I mentioned," he said.

"OK, I can see why you wouldn't want to make a big deal of that. But why not publicize the more conventional stuff? I checked your website for your environmental policies before I wrote my letter, and I would have written a different letter, or not written one at all, if I'd found some of this information."

"That's a good suggestion," he said. "And if you want to do more research on the kind of things we're involved in, you should know that we belong to a group called Practice Greenhealth," which, according to its website, is an "organization for institutions in the healthcare community that have made a commitment to sustainable, eco-friendly practices." Mayo Clinic is indeed listed among the members.

So. Good news: Mayo is greener than it appears, and is, according to the administrator who called me last night, committed to being on the forefront of sustainable healthcare. Also good news: as I have tried to tell my students, learning to write a decent business letter really is a skill worth cultivating. If you don't bring about change through it, you might at least get information.

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This page contains a single entry by Holly published on May 12, 2010 8:02 AM.

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