Prioritizing sustainability for MD Anderson's future
In 2023 alone, MD Anderson recycled enough paper products to save 20,288 mature trees. Linette Leadon thinks that number could be higher. A director in Environmental Health and Safety, Sustainability and Emergency Management (EHSSEM), Leadon has worked on several sustainability initiatives to help steer MD Anderson toward a more environmentally conscious future.
Striving to make an even larger impact, Leadon shares how the journey forward will benefit everyone.
How important is sustainability at MD Anderson?
Sustainability is more important now than ever at MD Anderson. We’ve created the Institutional Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee to demonstrate MD Anderson’s commitment to environmental stewardship through the development and implementation of education and sustainable programs. Our goal is to bring awareness to these issues and to implement new solutions within our workforce.
What current practices help sustain a better environment for our patients, visitors and workforce?
Our No. 1 initiative that affects everyone is recycling. Recycling is so important, and we successfully implement the practice in many ways. For example, our latest focus has been on our kitchen and food areas. We’ve worked to eliminate excess waste of plasticware within our food and drink storage by providing individual dispensers for the plasticware needed instead of the prepackaged options, where some plasticware go to waste. We removed our soda fountains to reduce infection risks during the pandemic, but then we realized this would be a great opportunity to reduce the use of Styrofoam cups, which are non-recyclable.
Employee break rooms and work areas are where we’ve made the most progress with our recycling program. We’ve drastically increased the amount of recycling receptacles in these spaces, which allows our employees to recycle properly and conveniently. The biggest hurdle when it comes to recycling is making it accessible and ensuring people know how to do so properly. We’re working with the Institutional Environmental Sustainability Advisory Committee to bring more awareness on this issue to our campuses.
We also have a robust recycling program for electronics. We evaluate unwanted and old items to see if they can be reused, sent to auction or recycled. Throwing them away is the last resort. Twice a year we host an e-cycle event on campus where employees can bring unwanted electronics to be recycled. It’s a great way to make sure these items don’t end up in a landfill.
How is MD Anderson sustainably planning for the future, in terms of new buildings and expansions?
Newer buildings like MD Anderson Cancer Center West Houston and the Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan Building were designed and built using energy-efficient practices, as well as sustainable building materials. With several new projects on the horizon, we’re working to expand what we’ve done in the past and explore even better options. LED lighting, motion sensor lights and temperature setbacks in unoccupied spaces are some of our standard practices that we’ll include in all new buildings, though these are a small percentage of our energy conservation. Mainly, we aim to minimize use by optimizing the energy needed and dynamically reducing consumption where it’s not required through real-time, daily and monthly monitoring tools.
We’re committed to implementing a program that recycles construction waste while our new facilities are built.
A lot of these new buildings have planned green spaces and outside areas for people to sit and enjoy nature. Our team is working with designers to see if there are opportunities for native plants to be planted in these spaces. Currently, we’re planning to relocate two mature oak trees in the construction zone that have been on campus for several years. Native species are invaluable to our ecosystem. They help promote biodiversity and support local wildlife. We hope to preserve and replenish as much of the native ecosystem as possible.
Are there any sustainability practices MD Anderson partakes in that most people might not know about?
A lot of what we do is behind the scenes. For instance, all our buses and shuttles run on propane, which is a much cleaner energy form than gasoline. This program has helped reduce MD Anderson’s CO2 emission footprint in transportation by 44%.
We support the purchase of energy-efficient products. If a lab wants to purchase a new freezer but the energy-efficient option is $10,000 more, our team will provide them with a $10,000 stipend as an incentive to purchase the more efficient product.
Ultimately, there are a lot of ways we’re working to make MD Anderson more sustainable. We hope that each year we’re able to bring more awareness to our sustainability efforts and inspire our employees to actively engage in sustainable practices, not only within MD Anderson but also in their daily lives, creating a positive environmental impact for the benefit of our community.