Sarah Chartier has served as senior sustainability project manager at Spectrum Health for eight years. In her role, she assesses ways to improve Spectrum’s practices that will lead to reducing its environmental footprint. She also engages employees and the community to get involved in the sustainability conversation and think about how they have an effect on the environment and ways to lessen that impact. Chartier, who also serves as a board member of the West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum, spoke to MiBiz about the future of the sustainable business movement.
How has Spectrum’s focus on sustainability shifted since you’ve been in your role?
We buy a lot of supplies. … (We) look at the money that we’re spending today and where that is going. Is it staying within our local community or are we purchasing products from suppliers that are international and won’t have an impact on our local economy? We’re being more intentional and accountable to how we’re spending our money. That’s through our supplier diversity program and looking at more local and diverse business owners. Because we know too, when they’re local to a community and have a diverse background, they’re looking to also support their local community within our greater community.
What has Spectrum done recently to be more sustainable?
Our new Michigan Street Market and Grill is a great example of how we’ve been more intentional. … We’ve been really focused on increasing our spend with local farmers, buying directly from local farms in forms of distributors that we work with. Then also purchasing from local diverse businesses all within that space. We talk about food, specifically, looking to have our product leverage the fact that Michigan is one of the most diverse states in the types of food that we grow and that we could be purchasing a lot more local to Michigan.
How would you describe the progression rate of businesses getting behind sustainability?
I think that we’re seeing a great progression, although not as quickly as we need to. There needs to be a little bit more urgency. However, I’m optimistic because I see that consumers are starting to drive that change.
What are you seeing from younger generations of workers?
I’m excited about all of the Millennials because we grew up in an era where we had this space to recognize that we could do better. We expect that of our employers. We’re asking questions to hold them accountable, and that is not something that historically has existed in this way.
What’s driving this shift?
I think it’s because we’re so connected and the amount of information we’re able to receive. That level of transparency is going up and will continue to go up. That accountability for practices of businesses is only going to go up. There’s an awareness with social media and technology that we haven’t historically had. And we now have a more robust process to understand, like when they’re talking about scoping out emissions, we have a more structured process to be able to measure the impact of businesses.
How can that affect business practices?
I see that a lot of the younger generations driving that and understanding their power as consumers to be able to set expectations for businesses. If a business sees it as a value from their employee or their consumer, then they’re more likely to do it and it becomes part of their business operations at that point.
When can sustainable business practices lead to cost savings?
A lot of different energy-related activities have a very short return on investment. LED lighting in a 24/7 parking lot could have a savings in six months. With less than a year payback, it’s a no-brainer for a business to take on that investment. Those kinds of practices are really helpful to getting people onboard and excited around sustainability starting with that business case.
Why is there urgency for businesses to get behind the sustainability movement?
It’s still an emerging issue that we’re discussing and people are aware of, but there’s not been the level of action that is required for us to not have a detrimental impact in accelerating climate change. There’s a lot of examples that have been visible recently in the news to alert people. What is our collective response as a business community? … There’s a lot of great efforts that are underway. However, not all businesses have sustainability programs. Within health care, as an example, I’m one of the few within Michigan that has a role like mine.
For companies that want to get more involved, what resources are available to them?
The West Michigan Sustainable Business Forum is a great place to network and meet other businesses who you can learn from. Local First has a program called Good for Michigan, and they have a survey you can do online to better understand where you are today on your sustainability journey and some areas of opportunity for you — not just the environmental aspect and the financial savings, but also focusing on the social aspects as well. (Businesses) could reach out to their electrical provider and see if they have rebates available for you to change out your light bulbs or HVAC systems.
Why is it important in sustainability practices to think about employee challenges?
(Equity) is a part of sustainability. It should be a part of sustainability. When people talk about the triple bottom line, it’s people, planet, prosperity. Building the lens of equity into what we do — which is making sure that we’re not leaving marginalized groups out and we’re not creating a system that works for some, but doesn’t work for all — is why it should be central to sustainability. But particularly within the business community, it’s a tension point to balance financial savings with other aspects of sustainability. It’s the easier lift initially when you started a program that could be around reducing your energy consumption, versus talking about food access for employees.