Create space for sustainability

Last September, a Tufts Health Plan employee posed a compelling question to President and CEO Tom Croswell at the end of the quarterly town hall meeting. She wanted to know what the health plan was doing to address environmental sustainability.

It demonstrated courage and also showed that our company needed to better communicate all we were doing. In fact, the company’s Real Estate and Support Services team, led by Vice President Ron Reppucci, has been working to address sustainability issues for nearly a decade. And because the company culture promotes openness to new ideas, Tufts Health Plan has innovated in environmental sustainability with a slew of achievements, including:

  • 40 percent reduction in electricity use at its Watertown campus since 2013
  • 120 percent of energy demand reduction goals for both ISO New England and Eversource
  • 500,000+ kWh annual energy savings from the new air conditioning system for the company’s data warehouse
  • Onsite well installation to feed the rooftop cooling tower directly, bypassing the need for public water resources
  • Free high-voltage Electric Vehicle (EV) charging stations for employees (Note: EV ownership has gone up since the company installed the stations.)
  • Trash disposal program that sends all non-recycled trash to a state-run “Trash to Energy Plant,” generating electricity for the grid and keeping trash out of landfills

All of these innovations contribute to Tufts Health Plan’s continued leadership in building performance. In 2019, our 64 Grove Street building was 95 percent more efficient than all other U.S. buildings of similar use, earning its fourth Energy Star, while 705 Mount Auburn earned its 14th Energy Star with a 92 efficiency rating.

Leadership sets the bar

The Real Estate team exceeds nearly every goal it sets, most notably in demand management. Reppucci credits Manager of Mechanical & Electrical Operations Rich Perkins for this initiative’s success. Since 2016, the system has lowered costs by over $350,000 simply by reducing demand.

“I don’t know any other company that’s doing demand management as intensively as Rich is,” said Reppucci.

Here’s how the system works: When there’s an energy emergency, Perkins gets a request from Enel X, a regional energy demand response provider, to cut energy consumption to a preset level. He activates the system, shutting off hallway and garage lights and about 50 percent of the heat pumps, lowering rooftop air conditioning and air exchange units, and asking the copy center, café and employees to turn off all non-essential equipment.

Last year, Perkins triggered the company’s demand response system on several of the summer’s hottest days, when demand for air conditioning was at its highest, avoiding the need for ISO or Eversource to fire up plants that are less efficient and more carbon emitting. And Perkins uses the system proactively as well, shutting down demand on non-peak days to augment the company’s sustainability efforts.

But it’s Reppucci’s vision and embrace of new ideas that make space for true sustainability leadership. His support for the Environmentalism and Sustainability Circle is a prime example.

“The Circle brings a whole new potential for developing ideas,” said Reppucci.

Circle raises awareness

Organized by the Women Together Business Resource Group, the enterprise-wide Environmentalism and Sustainability Circle helps develop ideas to make Tufts Health Plan even more sustainable than it already is.

Guided by its goal of increasing environmental awareness within the company and the community, the Environmentalism and Sustainability Circle plans to implement a Lunch & Learn program, sustainability challenges and new policies.

“We want to educate people on a bigger scale on how we can mitigate climate change, especially in underserved communities,” said Heather Friedmann, public policy manager for Tufts Health Public Plans and co-leader of the Circle.

She’s particularly proud of the new composting areas in the company’s 705 Café kitchen. Café partner Unidine operationalizes the initiative as part of its Waste Not program with support from Tufts Health Plan’s Real Estate team. Facilities and Construction Project Manager Diana Tereshko, who also oversees Tufts Health Plan’s sustainability programs, leads this project. Circle leaders recently joined her in a meeting with a waste management company to identify ways to improve the company’s trash stream. Tereshko is also planning recycling education events for employees.

“It’s important to understand what actually can be recycled,” said Tereshko. “We have an opportunity to be even more proactive.”

Like the community garden in its backyard, the company’s list of sustainable initiatives keeps growing. Bike rentals, secure bike-storing stations and a new shuttle service help alleviate the cost and hassles of commuting. A remote work program, now in its third year, has grown to 850 employees – roughly 30% of the workforce – and cut 1,600 vehicle trips a day. “The carbon footprint impact of that is enormous,” said Reppucci.

Tufts Health Plan’s sustainability efforts are a model for a living, breathing program that’s growing in response to suggestions from employees. “As one of the largest health care providers in the northeast, we can be a good example,” said Reppucci.