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Building a Healthier Future with the Environmental Sustainability Team

  • The Team leads will set goals in four areas—energy, waste, water, and purchasing—to reduce the University’s impact on the environment.

    The United Nations defines sustainability as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” It’s a broad definition when used in the context of the environment, and one that can invoke a variety of actions, from recycling to eliminating single-use plastics to converting to solar energy. For Massachusetts College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences (MCPHS), sustainability is a guiding principle for building a healthier, more equitable world.

    Environmental Sustainability is one of the University’s Strategic Priorities, initiatives curated to ensure that MCPHS continues to prepare the healthcare and life sciences workforce of the future. Spearheading the effort is a Team, led by three people with relevant expertise from different corners of the Community: Nicole Dettmann, DSc, MPH, PA-C, Associate Program Director, Associate Professor, Director of Clinical Education in the School of Physician Assistant Studies – Manchester/Worcester; Teresa Pitaro, Senior Director of Procurement in the Business Office; and Seth Wall, Chief Administrative Officer.

    “We need to start thinking about the environment as a social determinant of health,” Dettmann said. “As an institution focused on healthcare education, we have a responsibility to teach our students about these important issues and create a culture that increases awareness of and concern for the environment.”

    A big challenge for the Team leads was deciding where to begin. Before setting goals and suggesting changes, the co-leads had to understand how the campuses were currently performing. They enlisted Debra Shepard, a consultant from Riverstone Sustainability, to help.

    “One of the first things any organization has to do is define exactly how it can practice sustainability,” Shepard said. “We are taking something very broad, breaking it down, and transforming it into things people can act on.”

    Shepard and the Team determined four areas of focus for MCPHS: energy, waste, water, and purchasing. Then it was time to collect as much data as possible for each category. Shepard compared consumption rates and performance to other colleges and universities of similar size, identifying MCPHS’ strengths and opportunities.

    They are currently reviewing the data to develop a baseline report to then set goals and brainstorm initiatives to drive progress in all four categories. Some initiatives may require changes at an institutional level, while others will only succeed with participation from individual students, faculty, and staff. The Team leads will share details about the baseline report in the coming months.

    “There appears to be a lot of low-hanging fruit that we can easily address at an institutional level to see results,” Pitaro said. “Other changes will take more legwork and cooperation from the Community, but it all feels achievable. None of the challenges we’re facing as a University are insurmountable.”

    The Team is working to set goals that are both ambitious and attainable. They hope to embed environmental sustainability in the culture of MCPHS.

    “This is an exciting time for the University,” Wall said. “We want to empower and encourage our community members to have an impact. It’s also my personal hope that they can take what they learn through this process, bring it into their own lives, and inspire others to be a part of the solution.”