Colleagues discuss passion for environmental stewardship, Mayo’s sustainability efforts

Amanda Holloway and Dru Larson

In a "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" conversation, Amanda Holloway, director of Sustainability, and Dru Larson, a senior systems engineer in Facilities Operations, discuss their passion for environmental stewardship and their work at Mayo.

Mayo Clinic is a unique place: the culture, the values, the people. "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" explores the experiences of Mayo Clinic staff as they navigate life personally and professionally. Sharing these experiences increases understanding of others and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work.   

In this conversation, Amanda Holloway and Dru Larson discuss their passion for environmental stewardship and how the work they do at Mayo Clinic helps them protect the environment. Holloway grew up embracing the outdoors. Her mother, a biology teacher, would teach her about plants, animals and the importance of healthy ecosystems. Larson found his passion early in life as well when he noticed how the environment plays a part in overall health. Both are passionate about environmental stewardship and creating a sustainable environment.

Listen as Holloway and Larson share their experience:

Read the transcript

Narrator: This is the "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" podcast, where we build trust and belonging through the authentic storytelling of our Mayo Clinic staff. In this episode, you will hear Amanda, director of Sustainability, and Dru, a senior systems engineer, discuss their passion for environmental stewardship and how the work they do at Mayo Clinic plays a role in living their passion.

Larson: I've been an environmental person ever since I was a child. I have a huge extended family. We were growing up in rural Wisconsin, and it was really interesting to see that many from the Milwaukee area developed asthma-type symptoms whereas a lot of us in the rural area — even though we're from the same family — did not. And that's really when I felt the impact of the environment on health and how it's' so connected with air pollution.

Holloway: My passion and interest have always been in supporting a healthy environment. I grew up as a free-range kid, meaning that I had very little supervision and spent a lot of my time outside exploring the natural areas in my neighborhood. Most of my family vacations were centered around spending time outside. My mom was a biology teacher. So oftentimes, those outings were also educational. She would teach us about the plants and the animals and the importance of healthy ecosystems. That's how I find myself where I am now with supporting a healthy environment in an organization that supports human health.

Larson: It's a good connection between the two. Mayo has this value of stewardship to sustain and reinvest in our mission and extended communities by wisely managing our human, natural and material resources. How does your work really support our Mayo Clinic values of stewardship?

Holloway: I don't know if many people have heard of this term before, but the triple bottom line is a concept that suggests that businesses should not only focus on financial profits but also consider social and environmental performance. Sometimes this is called the 3 P's: People, planet, profit. I really like the way that Mayo Clinic has defined the value of stewardship for our organization because it nicely aligns with that triple bottom line concept. If we're making purchasing decisions, we should not only consider the financial impacts, but then also consider the environmental impacts and the social impacts. Does it help reduce waste? Does it help us reduce chemical usage? Those types of things should go into our decision-making process.

Larson: I think what I'm doing in energy management across the enterprise is really just to help people get the information in their hands to be able to make the right decisions. So it's not about telling folks what they have to do. It's being able to give them the right information to know what they want to do. We have a new utility bill management system, and this is going to give us insight across every facility that we have within the organization as to what our costs are in our utility bills, what are energy uses in every facility and our carbon emissions along with that. We're going to be able to dial in to see what is going to be the most effective way to be able to reduce our carbon footprint and our energy use across every facility in Mayo. I think it's helping people get that education that they want to make the right decisions.

Holloway: It's exciting to see the journey that the organization has been on over the last decade. We recently, as an organization, committed to our enterprise-wide sustainability goals/ We committed to the U.S. Department of Energy's Better Climate Challenge. The U.S. Department of Energy created the Better Climate Challenge as a way for organizations to create ambitious sustainability goals. We have two goals associated with this. One is to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. We also committed to reducing our energy use intensity. It applies to all of our Mayo Clinic locations in the U.S. That's really exciting.

I'm also really proud of the Green Advocate program created in 2019 as a way for employees who are passionate about environmental sustainability to look at ways that they can fuel that passion while they're at work. One of the things that our green advocates do is educate their colleagues. They also look at ways the organization can improve operations from an environmental standpoint within their work unit. It's been really cool to see or hear from green advocates who share projects that they've worked on, whether it's reducing paper or reducing waste, finding ways to recycle more, or reducing energy usage. It's neat because it does take all employees being mindful of our operations and the impact of our operations. And it takes all of us to find ways to be more environmentally friendly at work.

Larson: It's exciting when colleagues engage with you. I know we had that last year with one of our doctors. He had reached out to us and said, "What can I do to help?" He worked with his department to get us schedules of how things were operating. Schedules change and they don't necessarily get changed back. When we got these schedules changed, we saw a visible reduction in energy use. It's those little things that impact the organization.

Holloway: Exactly. I'd say some of the challenges around this work are around change management. It's not necessarily to say that people don't want to change or make improvements that would have a positive impact on the environment. But there are just so many competing priorities, and it takes time to change. So, it's finding that time to understand the challenges within your own work area and what those opportunities might be. It takes time to do a little bit of research to figure out what the solutions might be or even reach out to others, other departments or other resources within the organization that could help. And then just implementing those changes can also be a challenge, too.

Larson: It's changing some of the way we think about going forward. I talk about cost a lot 'because they want that return on investment when they work with something. But a lot of those costs are initial costs. Those big capital costs of doing an upfront project — some of those costs are operational costs and we're going to incur those for the next 25, 50, 100 years. However long that building is going to be there and those initial investments are really going to pay off in the long run. It's a way of looking at things a little bit differently than just looking at that initial cost. I think people would do the more efficient thing if it cost the same.

Holloway: Dru, you bring up a really good point, and something that I also like to highlight is the total cost of ownership. If you picture an iceberg, you see just a little tip of the iceberg that's above the surface. That's typically the first cost of, say, a product that you're considering buying. But then, there's so much more underneath the water that you don't see. We call those submerged costs. That could be waste that's generated as a part of that process or the energy that's used, or the water that's used. Maybe there's even labor that's needed. It might make sense to purchase something that's a little bit more expensive because over the lifetime of that piece of equipment, it's actually less expensive.

Larson: Absolutely.

Holloway: As you can imagine, Bold. Forward. Unbound has been impacting our work for a while because we've been working behind the scenes looking at ways that we can incorporate sustainability into these new facilities and our operations. But I'm excited to share that Mayo Clinic is pursuing LEED certification for the project. LEED stands for Leadership and Energy and Environmental Design and is a green building certification program. We're looking at a wide range of strategies, including energy efficiency and water conservation, indoor environmental quality and material selection, and more. We're still trying to figure out how we incorporate sustainable design strategies into the building, but that's really exciting.

Dru, I have to imagine that you are looking at ways to incorporate energy conservation and energy innovation into Bold. Forward. Unbound.

Larson: This is really a neat opportunity. Not often are you given this blank canvas to be able to bring ideas forth. So, we can look at this from a new perspective of how we're delivering that chilled water to cool that space, how we're delivering that hot water to heat that space. What type of lighting? What type of ambiance do we want in this? It's an awesome opportunity to give input into this to the teams around Mayo and be able to reduce our energy footprint for both cost savings and environmental impact too.

Holloway: I'd add that this goes beyond just the Bold. Forward. Unbound project in Rochester. We're looking across the organization for ways that we can incorporate environmental practices into those projects. There's the new hospital project in LaCrosse where we're incorporating geothermal heating and cooling into that project. That'll help us reduce our energy usage as well as reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. That's a fantastic example. And we're looking for other opportunities across our campuses for ways that we can be more environmentally sustainable.

Larson: Absolutely. I think the main way that our colleagues can be stewards of our resources is just to not only be open to learning new things and new technologies but also be open to your environment and look for those things that might be opportunities. You notice when you leave an office, the lights stay on. How long do they stay on? Just be curious. Those are the things that spark ideas and, in turn, spark those opportunities.

Holloway: That's a great point. I'd also suggest for employees to check out the resources that are available. We also offer some sustainability-related activities which I'm probably a little nerdy in saying this, but that I find fun. We usually offer a couple of eco challenges each year. The whole idea is that you learn something new and develop some new, sustainable habits that you carry forward. It might be something simple like using a reusable water bottle. Or it could be more involved with doing some research on how you could buy renewable energy or use renewable energy at your home.

Narrator: Thank you both for sharing your experience with us and putting your passion into the work you do every day at Mayo Clinic. Sharing experiences like these increases our understanding of one another and ultimately contributes to finding connections, belonging and inclusion at work. For more stories, subscribe to "Mayo Clinic Employee Experiences" on popular podcast apps.

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