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Our new sustainability director lives her mission

1-26-2018 Sustainability Director

Our new director of sustainability, Sarah O’Keeffe, doesn’t just embrace the principles of sustainability, she lives them.

Sarah takes the rapid and bus to work. When the weather breaks, she will bring her “folder” to work. Not a file folder, hanging folder or manila folder. Her “folder” is her folding bicycle.

Even though she’s the health system’s first-ever sustainability director, don’t tell her that she’s been given a blank canvas.

“It’s not as blank as you think,” she says, citing the work already done by MetroHealth’s Green Team, its commitment to becoming the world’s first hospital-led EcoDistrict and other behind-the-scenes grassroots efforts to save energy and resources.

“The canvas is not mine to paint,” she adds. “It’s all of ours to paint. I get to be the artistic director.”

Sustainability is more than recycling, cutting waste and installing solar panels. It includes community engagement, population health and wellness programs, she says. The broad view of sustainability perfectly matches MetroHealth’s mission because it’s all about our community’s health.

She is a native of Norton, Ohio, near Akron, and started at MetroHealth on January 8. Before that, she worked in University Hospitals’ Office of Sustainability. She has an MBA from Case Western Reserve University, where she also worked as a sustainability consultant. Her diverse experience includes teaching environmental education in camps in California, teaching English to high schoolers in Japan and rebuilding homes in Florida after Hurricane Andrew.

She says part of her job is to “coalesce” multiple initiatives into a singular MetroHealth sustainability program and to communicate it to staff, patients and the community, saying, “This is how we do business.”

Another important role will be to maximize the sustainability of the campus transformation project and new buildings coming online.

The transformation gives MetroHealth the opportunity to reimagine how staff members come to work, she says. She’d like to explore ideas that have worked well at other hospital systems, including offering parking discounts to carpoolers and having MetroHealth pay employees to take public transportation, ride bikes or walk to work.

“That’s the kind of thinking that would be great to have here,” she says, “especially since we are transforming our campus.”

Sarah has that in her other folder, her idea folder.