Labor-Management Partnership Leads to Recycling Success at NYU Langone Medical Center

H-CAP’s Green Careers initiative emphasizes labor-management driven “green systems change.” More than 18 months of hard work by teams in the field have pro-duced great examples of what this looks like in practice. Here, we highlight the efforts at NYU Lan-gone Medical Center where the Building Service Department’s (BSD) Labor-Management commit-tee is collaborating with ongoing hospital-wide recycling initiatives to boost the overall recycling rate in the facility.

Following their initial site visit by Practice Green Health in the summer of 2010, the BSD commit-tee explored possibilities for improving waste management practices and decided to focus on recycling. As a part of this focus, the Labor-Management committee also identified specific opportunities in the operating room suites for recycling and plastics reprocessing.

In the OR project design phase, the committee engaged partners from throughout the hospital, including nursing, anesthesia, materials management, and administration. Recognizing that the potential for success relied in large part on the frontline BSD workers, the Labor-Management committee also made these staff part of the decision-making and design of the program. And BSD workers are now responsible for training all new staff and relief staff within the OR on proper practices.

In the facility-wide recycling effort, frontline BSD staff was also asked to contribute their knowledge to the placement of recycling bins throughout the facility. They worked with nurses on location and design of bins- ensuring placement where they would get the most use and be the least in-the-way. In one example, bins were designed to go under the computers at the nurses stations.

Two levels of workforce education formed a core component of these recycling efforts. First, a Train-the-Trainer program was instituted in the fall of 2010 under the direction of the Labor-Management Committee. This program trained a corps of BSD worker and supervisor green training teams. Then, in late March 2011, these training teams began their facility-wide BSD green training, a major part of which focused on recycling and waste reduction.

As a result of these efforts, NYU has started to see an increase in OR recycling as well as a major increase in overall recycling rates. There has been a significant increase in the OR “purple bag” recycling rates starting in April after the project was initiated in a number of ORs.

Clive Green, a building service worker and union leader on this project, attributes the suc-cess of the OR purple bag project to “committed team players who follow-up on their role every day- for example: replacing purple liners, policing what goes in the bags, and having green knowledge to spread the importance of waste reduction in OR’s.” Hilda Pineda, Build-ing Services Associate Director, described the experience of setting up this program as “exciting”. She explained, “I thought that it may be almost impossible due to type of activity in this area. Nurses, house staff, and anesthesia attendings were extremely cooperative and interested in greening the OR- so without their support this initiative would have been im-possible. Our housekeeping staff was vital to the success of this program since they had to be consistent leaving the purple liners in specific areas of every operating room the night before for the first cases of the following day- but also our day and evening staff had to make sure to maintain an adequate amount of liners for every case in every operating room.”

According to Practice Green Health, best practices in OR recycling can lead to recycling ap-proximately 20-30% of OR waste. The efforts led by the LM committee put NYU on a track to achieve these rates.

NYU Langone Medical Center’s increase in overall recycling is equally stark. In March (before training) 27.35 tons of recycling were collected. In April and May (after training) 46.43 and 49 tons were collected. This represents an average increase of 74 percent.

As well as reflecting best practices in recycling, the SMART goal initiatives led by the BSD Labor- Management committee reflects many of the best practices of labor-management partnerships. These include:
1. Bringing both perspectives – labor and management – to the green systems change endeavor and fostering mutual accountability for the success of the work.
2. Engaging the frontline workforce in skills and education programs that encourage critical thinking- and go beyond training to task and explain the “why” of green change.
3. Pursuing specific data-driven projects that change what we do and/or how we do it to impact the triple bottom line (people, planet, and profit (Cost reduction))
4. Utilizing the knowledge, skills and experience of frontline workers and supervisors in developing the projects.
5. Communicating clearly with the frontline workforce, senior leadership, and all lay-ers in-between.
6. Embedding the changes in the hospital systems by engaging affected departments and individuals

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