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Sustainability at Aspirus St. Luke's

Category: Sustainability
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How Aspirus St. Luke's is setting a new course internally and for the greater community

We all want to be good stewards of our resources. We know it’s necessary for the health of our people and our communities. But sometimes, what’s most cost-effective or easiest is not what is most sustainable.

Like so many other organizations, at St. Luke’s we aim to set realistic goals in sustainability for our organization that will have a large overall impact. As part of this initiative, I lead a task force charged with assessing and improving the stewardship of our resources.

We knew from the start that we couldn’t change everything overnight. So, we focused on smaller, attainable goals to strive towards our vision for good stewardship. We looked at the most obvious areas to improve our use of resources and make practical changes for positive, measurable outcomes.

One of the most obvious starting points? Cutting back on our use of paper.

Reduce paper: an easy win

We started by looking at areas that typically used a lot of paper. We noticed that every fall we used about 266 reams to print employee benefit packets for the open enrollment. We then came up with a straightforward, obvious solution to reduce paper.

Last fall, we published the packets online instead. Doing this saved about 133,470 sheets of paper. We also saved the power to run the copy machine to make the packets, a week of staff time stuffing envelopes, and postage costs. Employees were overwhelmingly positive about the change. With a few small adjustments, we had become more sustainable.

But the real success of this goal is how it is affecting the overall culture of our organization. Once we started looking for ways to reduce paper, we started seeing opportunities everywhere.

Now, our employees are looking at their department’s practices. More of us are asking, is it necessary to use paper here? How could we change that? While we know some uses for paper will never go away completely (a lot of us love our handwritten to-do lists!), we are moving towards paper-free whenever possible.

This includes:

  • Secure e-faxing rather than traditional fax machines
  • Electronic patient education information
  • Electronic patient registration and e-signatures
  • Meetings with emailed agendas
  • Electronic invoicing with vendors

These changes also better serve many of our patients, who prefer a streamlined registration process through electronic forms and information.

Big change starts small

These changes to reduce paper align with our other sustainable initiatives. While many seem small, they add up to big change over time.

For example, our food service team works to keep sustainability at the forefront of our daily operations. We compost food waste and use compostable products whenever possible. We prioritize local food and ingredients whenever possible. Plus, we cook to order (rather than producing large quantities), and we donate surplus food to local organizations.

We’re also making efforts in our buildings. We use high-efficiency LED lighting and motion detector switches. We heat water for laundry with reclaimed steam from the city’s steam plant. Moving forward, Building A will be converted to use hot water heat, which is 30% more efficient than steam. All our future buildings will be designed to use this as well.

These initiatives may seem small by themselves, but combined with everything we’re doing, they have large overall positive ramifications for the sustainability of our community. In addition, making these changes brings us together as an organization. It changes how we all think about sustainability – both in the workplace, and in the rest of our lives.

To learn more about St. Luke’s sustainability initiatives, visit

This article was originally featured on pages 48 & 49 in the April 2023 issue of The Duluthian magazine.