Wisconsin-based Gundersen Health System achieved its first days of energy independence, becoming the first health system in the United States to do so. October 14, 2014 marked the first day that Gundersen produced more energy than the health system consumed.

In 2008, Jeff Thompson, Gundersen CEO, set a goal for the health system to control rising energy costs and improve the health of the communities it serves. They focused on two main initiatives: reducing consumption by improving efficiency and creating cleaner energy.

“We did not set out to be the greenest health system,” said Dr. Thompson. “We set out to make the air better for our patients to breathe, control our rising energy costs and help our local economy. We believe we have made more progress on all three than anyone else in the country.”

To reach this milestone, Gundersen improved its energy efficiency by more than 40% resulting in annual savings of nearly $2 million from conservation alone. The health system also uses energy from a diverse range of sources, including: natural gas from landfills and cows, hardwood chips from local sawmills, wind, and geothermal wells.

Producing more clean energy than they use has been a challenge and a moving target. Hospitals typically use two and a half times more energy than commercial buildings. In addition, Wisconsin has one of the most energy-intensive climates in the nation. And, since the goal was set, expansion has occurred within Gundersen, including construction of two new hospitals.

“We are accomplishing something no one else in health care has done.”

In a letter sent to employees detailing this milestone, Dr. Thompson outlined the reasons for making the move towards energy independence, including: reducing pollution, increasing financial resources for patient care, and strengthening the local economy by purchasing from energy producers closer to home.

Perhaps most importantly, “It helps define us as an organization,” said Dr. Thompson. [We are a] strong corporate citizen, concerned about the broad health and well-being of our region; both physical and economic health.”

“Are we done? Not yet,” Dr. Thompson continued. “There is still plenty of waste you can help us decrease. We also have many opportunities to expand our sustainability and waste management programs. Beyond that, it is to help other staff and other communities understand, that a great health care organization needs to take care of patients, their families, and our whole community, and that is what we are trying to do every day.”