Building a Environmental Culture of Innovation

by Hayley Jean Farr, MBA ‘12 (8/15/11)

Hayley Jean Farr, MBA ‘12

As a student interested in pursuing a post-MBA career “greening” the health care industry, I am lucky to be spending my summer as an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps Fellow at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts.

As a student interested in pursuing a post-MBA career “greening” the health care industry, I am lucky to be spending my summer as an Environmental Defense Fund (EDF) Climate Corps Fellow at Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA), the largest private health plan in the state and one of the most innovative providers nationally. My role is to help BCBSMA incorporate their internal, volunteer-led sustainability initiative (appropriately named green@blue) into a corporate-wide citizenship program that has traditionally focused on external civic engagement.


During my first few weeks at BCBSMA, I evaluated BCBSMA’s progress towards its three corporate sustainability goals (i.e., energy use, recycling, paper consumption) set for 2011 and on developing an implementation plan for each goal. Since then, my focus has transitioned to employee engagement – specifically, how do we achieve corporate-wide employee buy-in for green@blue? How do we change the environmental culture of BCBSMA and embrace innovation within BCBSMA’s internal operations to support our sustainability goals?


Innovation frameworks


Trying to answer these questions, I thought back to my experience in the Sustainable Global Enterprise Immersion at Johnson at Cornell, where we learned that the key to responding to sustainability challenges and identifying growth opportunities is to have a structure (e.g., capabilities, tools, resources, processes, systems) and culture that allows for innovation.


To adapt to market and regulatory changes, BCBSMA has developed innovative initiatives, products, and service offerings to help make health care more affordable to its members. One example is its new global payment model called the Alternative Quality Contract (AQC). Within the health insurance industry, the AQC is seen as a groundbreaking alternative to the traditional fee for service payment system. It’s designed to encourage cost-effective, patient-centered care by paying participating physicians and hospitals for the quality, not the quantity of the care they deliver.


Given these existing frameworks and structures for innovation, I believe that BCBSMA has a tremendous opportunity to bring the same radical change to its environmental culture; in turn, influencing behavioral change and encouraging and rewarding internal innovation among its employees – both essential for a successful sustainability program.


Innovation in action


Recently, I encountered internal innovation in action: To reduce the energy use at two of our facilities, I recommended that BCBSMA replace over 800 decorative halogen light bulbs with LED technology. Although the project looked promising – its payback period was just over a year – we faced a practical problem: the LED bulb required significant changes to the light fixture to increase airflow to the bulb. Because of the appearance, we were close to canceling the project.


A few days later, John from Facilities Maintenance & Operations identified a creative solution to our problem. He removed a component in the light fixture and the halogen bulb, which allowed ambient light from four compact fluorescent light bulbs to pass through the fixture. With this simple yet innovative modification, John found a way to eliminate over 800 halogen bulbs, which will save BCBSMA $30,000 per year in operation and maintenance costs, and reduce our annual energy use by over 200,000 kWh.


Through this experience I’ve learned that it is incredibly difficult to change an environmental culture overnight; but, I’ve also learned that sharing examples of internal innovation and success is the first step towards encouraging associates across all of BCBSMA’s business units to follow suit.


As I prepare to leave BCBSMA for my last year of business school, I’m inspired by the instances of “green” innovation that I’ve witnessed and been a part of during my time at BCBSMA. I hope that what inspires me may inspire others to think about how to change the environmental culture of their workplace in our collective pursuit of sustainability.