Thursday, May 3, 2007
Six local graduate students spent this semester inspecting toilets and sifting through trash. Their mission: to transform a local health care provider, Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, into a beacon of environmental sustainability—and also save the nonprofit facility some cash.
The Monterey Institute of International Studies students analyzed how the clinic used water, energy and supplies. They discovered incandescent lights, clogged heating vents and a lack of recycling bins at the clinic’s North Sanborn Road branch. And they determined that many of these practices—ecological no-no’s in a post Inconvenient Truth world—have simple fixes.
On Friday, May 4, the students will present a series of recommendations. They will suggest some simple, immediate changes—for instance, that the clinic clear the dust from its ventilation system. They will also recommend some long-term conservation measures, such as installing solar panels.
Laura Strohm, executive director of the Sustainability Academy, teaches the class, which has performed “sustainability assessments” for numerous businesses and institutions in Monterey County with the hope that they will conserve water and energy, as well as stock eco-friendly supplies and products.
“It saves them money,” Strohm says, and “it reduces their environmental footprint.”
Several years ago, MIIS students made recommendations for Hayward Lumber’s Pacific Grove branch, many of which the environmentally-friendly company implemented. Hayward carries an impressive line of Forest Stewardship Council-certified materials, has a fleet of hybrid vehicles for its managers, and utilizes solar power in several of its stores—including its Salinas branch.
Bill Hayward, the company’s president and self-described “chief sustainability officer,” says the lumber firm’s eco-initiatives have attracted new customers and saved it a lot of money from gasoline and energy reductions. “Sustainability becomes a competitive advantage for those who get it,” says Hayward.
Shuffling PowerPoint slides and taking notes on their laptops, the MIIS students met last week to rehearse the pitch they will present to Clinica de Salud’s administrators. Strohm interrupted the class repeatedly—every time a student referred to their audience as “you guys.” But their inspiring message wasn’t lost in their informal delivery.
Student Max Perelman showed pictures of compact fluorescent bulbs and Solatubes, which reflect light through an easy-to-install, mirrored tunnel. The lighting upgrades would cost Clinica de Salud about $22,000, Perelman said, but would pay for themselves through energy savings and rebates within three years. Perelman referred to a study that showed a 13 percent increase in productivity when employers switched to fluorescent lights.
Perelman also broke down the energy and cost savings Clinica de Salud could see if they installed a “cool roof,” which consists of a light-colored surface that effectively reflects infrared energy. Coupled with better insulation, Perelman said, the clinic’s office would be cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter, resulting in $29,000 in energy savings over 20 years.
Perelman then introduced his water-conservation spiel by saying: “We looked at your faucets and toilets.” The students laughed. After some discussion, Perelman said with a smile that he’d change that to “plumbing fixtures.”
Dual-flush toilets and water-efficient faucets, he reported, could reduce Clinica de Salud’s water consumption by 20 percent; the upgrades would pay for themselves in just over two years.
Student Cynthia Tanabe stepped up next to talk about waste management.
She had analyzed Clinica de Salud’s recycling system, and she didn’t have many accolades. She reported that the clinic recycles only 10 percent of its garbage. Tanabe recommended educating staff about recycling, investing in a recycling dumpster, and outsourcing shredded paper disposal. Instead of using Styrofoam coffee cups and throwaway exam gowns, Tanabe wants Clinica de Salud to use ceramic mugs and to buy reusable cotton gowns.
These initiatives seem practical to idealistic college students. They also resonated with Max Cuevas, chief executive officer of Clinica de Salud.
Cuevas says the organization intends to take the students’ plan and build on it. “For us, if we can save some money and improve efficiency in our building while making things comfortable and better for our patients, why not do it?”
Clinica de Salud, Cuevas says, plans to expand its Sanborn Road clinic and build a new facility in King City. In both facilities, the organization wants to use local and recycled building materials, design landscapes to shade structures and utilize natural lighting.
Clinica de Salud, which provides affordable medical treatment for the Salinas Valley’s agricultural workforce, is already a model health care provider. Now the clinic system could become a leader in sustainable design as well.