BMC Drastically Reduces Carbon Footprint
Dave Maffeo, Senior Director of Support Services, and Bob Biggio, Senior Vice President, Facilities and Support Services discuss important environmental issues we face and how BMC is taking action and reducing their carbon footprint.
Melanie Cole (Host): Boston Medical Center is dedicated to reducing the carbon footprint because healthier hospitals mean healthier communities. My guests in this panel discussion today are Dave Maffeo, he’s the Senior Director of Support Services at Boston Medical Center, and Bob Biggio, he’s the Vice President of Facilities and Support Services at Boston Medical Center. So Bob, I’d like to start with you because I just love this topic. I think it’s something that’s so important and we all need to pay attention to our carbon footprint. As we think about climate change, speak to us about why a hospital would want to reduce its carbon footprint. Are hospitals large contributors to the environmental issues that we’re facing?
Bob Biggio (Guest): Yes Melanie, so hospitals use a ton of energy when compared to most other commercial buildings, and when you think about it, we’re in the business of caring for our community, and so it makes sense to start with our environment and work on reducing our carbon footprint to significantly change the amount of carbon that we’re emitting and the amount of pollution as a result of the use of the energy, and so for a hospital like BMC that is really committed to serving it’s community, it really makes sense to start with environmental issues and reducing our carbon footprint.
Host: So Bob, sticking with you, in all the changes that you’ve made and construction that’s been completed and ongoing – how much money does the campus save and is that money put into patient care?
Bob: So in the construction that we’ve completed, we’ve essentially consolidated our footprint of our campus so both to reduce the amount of square footage that we use and reduce the amount of energy, and doing so has reduced our operating costs by almost 25 million dollars as a combination of both operating efficiencies as well as energy efficiencies and it truly is a reduction or improvement in efficiency, and so virtually all of the money that we’ve been able to save goes right back to serve our mission and going into patient care.
Host: That’s so encouraging for patients. So we’ve talked about reducing your carbon footprint. You’re also generating much of your own electricity and heat. Tell us about that Bob if you would.
Bob: Sure Melanie, so we’ve installed what’s known as a combined heat and power plant or cogeneration plant, and what that does is allow us to produce electricity here on site at the hospital, as opposed to taking it off the grid from a power plant that’s in a remote location. The advantage of doing that is that it allows us to use the waste heat that’s created from the generation of the electricity, and so using that waste heat, improves the overall efficiency by about 35%, and so when compared to when we started on this journey in 2011, the cogeneration plant now produces about 30% of our overall electricity that we were consuming at that time.
Host: Expand on that a little bit if you would a little bit about that cogeneration plant, as I understand it, that can run the inpatient unit for months without electricity from the outside? Tell the listeners what a cogen plant is and what made you decide to invest in it?
Bob: Certainly so a cogeneration plant is a number of different types of prime movers, but it’s essentially – ours is an engine, not that different from what you see in your car, just much larger and when it’s running and generating electricity, it produces waste heat, again much like your own car, and so the waste heat and the electricity being generated here on site has the added advantage of that in the event that the electric grid went down, so in a significant storm let’s say similar to Hurricane Katrina down in New Orleans, we’d be able to actually disconnect from the grid and we’d be able to continue to power our inpatient units and heat them for months on end without needing to get power from the electric grid, and so that’s a significant advantage and creates a much more resilient facility in the event of a disaster such as Katrina.
Host: And as I understand it, Boston Medical Center is also partnering with MIT to buy electricity from solar power installation in North Carolina. Tell us a little bit about that initiative and how does it benefit BMC and the mid-Atlantic region as a whole Bob?
Bob: Yes Melanie, we partnered with both MIT and the Post Office Square Garage to sign a power purchase agreement that purchases electricity from a solar farm that was installed in North Carolina in Carteret County. Essentially what this allows us to do is reduce our carbon footprint by buying power from the solar field in North Carolina, which then offsets our carbon emissions up here in Boston. The advantage for the North Carolina region is that much of the power is going into the grid in that area and it actually allowed them to take brown power off of the grid. So for instance when it started operation, a coal fire power plant was able to shut down given the amount of new power that was being now provided to the grid from a solar power installation.
Host: Dave, I’d like to go to you since we’ve been talking to Bob quite a bit, and this is one of my favorite things about Boston Medical Center, and we’ve done shows about it. There’s been an amazing amount of work in the facility space to accomplish everything we’ve been discussing so far. BMC has also added a rooftop farm, which I love, and a large bee population, which is incredible. Tell us about that work and how it benefits the environment and your patients?
Dave Maffeo (Guest): Sure Melanie, so really the farm started as a part of our vision to make Boston the healthiest urban population in the world by the year 2030. It supports the entire BMC community, a food pantry which serves 7,000 people per month, our inpatient population, our cafeterias on campus as well, it’s used in our teaching kitchen where we inspire patients and staff to food preparation education and we also have a weekly farmer’s market in our Shapiro building so the local community can have access to bring home these vegetables. We’ve harvested 6,000 pounds a year since 2017 and we’ve also harvested 150 pounds of honey since 2017 that we use to recognize our employees. And then in terms of sustainable reasons why, it reduces the urban island effect. Typically in urban populations, the temperature can be 22 degrees warmer in the environment, so it actually reduces the greenhouse gas emissions that are released. It also prolongs the life expectancy of the roof two to three times and can save energy 5% to 40% just by having a green roof.
Host: That really is amazing and people probably don’t realize everything that you’ve just said. So Dave, I’ve also read that you have a partnership related to Fresh Fish – so that’s included in this as well?
Dave: Yeah, so actually Melanie, one of our first sustainable food partnerships was with the Gloucester Fishermen's Wives Association and their founder, Angela Sanfilippo met with us, educated us on the history of the fishing industry and other species of fish that were plentiful and would be a good fit to our menus. It was a perfect marriage, supporting the local fishing economy while offering fresh fish straight off the boat and delivered to us daily. So we’ve transitioned about 10,000 pounds annually from frozen to fresh over the last 5 years.
Host: Bob with everything Dave is saying, and hospitals feed so many people, and that of course produces waste, is there a way to reduce the impact on landfills?
Bob: Yes Melanie, we’ve also made significant strides in improving our recycling program and increasing the amount of waste that we recycle here at the hospital.
Dave: And Melanie just to add, we are doing a lot on this area. We adopted a program called Trim Tracks in our kitchens to make kitchen staff aware of the amount of food waste they’re producing and to be mindful to only take what you need, and we’ve also adopted a pretty interesting system called the biodigester and it takes food waste and breaks it down to waste water, which can then be safely flushed down the drain. The results of this is 180 tons of food waste that did not end up in the landfill and staving us a lot of money on wasting costs.
Host: This is all so amazing for patients to hear, so tell us a little bit about other hospitals and Dave this question is to you – are they building farms and going to these lengths to reduce their carbon footprints? What is it that sets Boston Medical Center so apart and makes you so unique?
Dave: So it’s pretty amazing, since we launched the Food Drop Farm, how many requests and visits we’ve had. We’ve had callers in healthcare, administrators from Alaska to New Jersey. They visit us, they want to model some of this work, they think it’s a great idea what we’re doing to address social determine of health of our patients so I know a couple people. Nothing has transpired yet in terms of funding for these locations but they definitely want to do this. We’re also a part of Healthcare Without Harm climate council, which is hospitals nationally that are doing their best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with health care.
Host: So this question is to both of you, and Bob I’d like you to start with your answer. There’s probably a delicate balance to strike, and we consumers can’t really quite imagine what you’re all going through, setting all of this up, but with these initiatives, I’m sure it costs money and requires change in process to implement them and plus convincing people about how important this work is and making sure it’s cost effective. What would you say hospitals thinking about some of these initiatives, yet dealing with that skepticism, what would you say to them?
Dave: Well I think what was important for us is that we started with the low hanging fruit, and so we were able to make strides early on that saved significant amounts of money, and that money helped us to be able to fuel if you would, additional improvements as we moved along the journey. For us, we think Boston Medical Center, given its long history of caring for the underserved population in Boston. The clinicians here are really passionate about making sure they’re be cared for our community. So I think they were really behind this initiative from the beginning. One of the keys though was to be sure we communicate to them why we were making these changes and what the benefits or the changes were, and I think once they understood that they really got behind it.
Dave: Just to add, you know Bob and I talk about this a lot, always stick with the mindset that if it’s the right thing to do for your community then it’s a worthwhile initiative. You know we got a lot of success with a lot of the, you know Bob mentioned the low hanging fruit have been very fruitful in terms of clout savings. Even down to some of the changes on the flooring, chemical free floors that we used in the medial center. Recyclable, cubicle cartons. We’re diverted the way stream so we’ve divided about 35% of our way stream that’s recycle. So a lot of that is either a direct proportion to saving money. So I would say if it’s the right thing to do, then just go for it.
Host: Well Dave, sticking with you for a minute, what about some pushback you might have received, like members of the surgical team that might be concerned how long it would take to power up operating rooms in the morning after shutting them down in the evenings? Are these things – are you able to explain it to them and work around and deal with that?
Dave: So I think our facilities team here has done a great job with explaining the why, you know why are we converting to LED lighting or why are we making some infrastructure changes, so the BMC community has been very open to the sustainable reasons why.
Host: So gentleman, I’d like to wrap this up and give you each a chance to state the importance of dramatically reducing the carbon footprint, something that we all need to be concerned about, especially right now. So Bob, why don’t you start? Tell us what’s next for BMC on the green energy front.
Bob: Well Melanie, BMC is the largest safety net hospital in New England, meaning that we care for the most [inaudible 00:13:03] populations and it’s been shown that climate change disproportionally impacts our patient populations, so for us it’s extremely important that we continue on this journey, and so we’re looking at a number of additional initiatives, one of which will be some onsite solar here at the hospital that we’re looking to install. We’re also trying to electrify our vehicle fleet to reduce the carbon emissions from those vehicles and we’re also in the process of evaluating a new smart solar PPA that would be located up here in the Boston region so that we can increase the amount of renewable power that we’re using for the hospital.
Host: It’s all so exciting. Dave, last word to you. What would you like the community at large, and for the rest of the country and other hospitals and providers to know about the exciting work that you’re doing at Boston Medical Center to reduce the carbon footprint and really help with all of the climate issues that are dire right now?
Dave: So I’m going to take it to the lens of our food and our farming that we’re doing. In terms of this food, we want to continue to educate the community. We want more of the community to farm on their own. We’re doing some – using social media. Our rooftop farm manager is doing more teaching in the community. The future could mean identifying other potential green roof opportunities, but really we want to continue to work towards supporting local food systems to build a sustainable food infrastructure that is resilient in the state of Massachusetts and continue to be good stewards to the environment we serve.
Host: I love that ending. Thank you so much gentleman for joining us today and for all the wonderful work that you’re doing. I’m sure that the communities appreciate it and it really is so important. So thank you so much again, and that wraps up this episode of Boston Med Talks with Boston Medical Center. Head on over to our website at bmc.org for more information and to get connected with one of our providers. If you found this podcast informative, and I’m sure you did as did I, please share on your social media and be sure to check out all the other fascinating podcasts in our library. I’m Melanie Cole.