BCBS companies work to create a healthier environment

Published April 19, 2015

As a network of organizations focused on health and well-being, Blue Cross and Blue Shield companies view each Earth Day as an opportunity to renew and refresh our efforts to create a healthier environment.  Without question, a world with cleaner air and water, fewer harmful chemicals and ample healthy parks and green spaces, is a better world for our associates, members and communities.

But increasingly we also see Earth Day as a chance to share best practices and stories of innovation and business success. Sustainability efforts at Blue Shield of California (BSCA), Highmark Blue Cross Blue Shield (Highmark BCBS), Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA), and across all 37 independently-operated BCBS companies, are helping the planet and helping our businesses by reducing costs, minimizing risks and attracting and keeping our best talent.

In that spirit, here are some highlights of recent initiatives from BSCA, Highmark BCBS and BCBSMA that are helping the environment, improving health, and creating better businesses:

  • Saving energy and finding dollars in the cloud: Colocating data centers significantly reduces costs and cleans the air through lower electricity use. BCBSMA moved its Boston data center from its headquarters building to a colocation facility in 2014, resulting in a substantial reduction in electricity use and a more cost-effective IT infrastructure. BSCA is moving its two data centers in Lodi and El Dorado Hills to colocation facilities in California and Nevada, resulting in increased energy efficiency. Highmark BCBS operates a LEED-Silver certified data center constructed in 2005 and became Energy Star certified in 2012.
  • Reduce, reuse, recycle: Using less and recycling more saves money and keeps our streets and parks clean. BCBSMA rolled out single stream recycling at each associate’s desk, capturing over 400 tons of paper, plastic, and appropriate metal in 2014. It also composts in all cafeterias and will bring composting to every break room in 2015.  In 2011, BSCA switched to reusable dishware in several of its cafes, which diverts 92,500 cups and 188,000 plates and to-go containers from landfill each year. In its San Francisco headquarters cafe, dining ware is compostable, as commercial composting facilities are available in that city.
  • Healthy commuting: The fewer cars on the road, the less pollution in the air. Plus, utilizing public transit or walking and biking makes us all healthier. Highmark BCBS became a Bicycle Friendly Business through the League of American Bicyclists by providing its employees with secure bike parking and shower and changing facilities. BSCA also offers bicycle parking and onsite showers at several facilities. They support Bike to Work Day at locations throughout the state, and offer extensive bicycle commuting resources, including maps and safety information, for employees. BCBSMA recently began covering 100% of all associate public transportation costs, encouraging more employees to take trains and buses to reduce the number of cars on the road.
  • Healthy Buildings: From LED lighting to chemical free furniture, our workplaces represent tremendous opportunity for new efficiencies and associate health. BSCA’s San Francisco headquarters is in an Energy Star (2014) and LEED-Gold certified building. Its 20-acre facility in Lodi, CA opened in 2008 and is LEED-certified – making it one of Lodi's largest and greenest employers. The building features construction materials made from renewable resources, recycled materials and products that are available locally. Highmark BCBS successfully completed lighting upgrades throughout its campuses by converting to LED technology and adding smart controls. LEDs are 40% or more efficient than traditional lighting and require fewer fixtures to produce the same lighting levels. The furniture in BCBSMA’s new Boston headquarters is free of toxic flame retardants and it is now company policy to only purchase flame retardant-free furniture and equipment.
  • Member and community engagement: Collaborating beyond our four walls brings greater scale and impact to our work. BCBSMA is offering a set of environmental health best practices to accounts as part of its prevention and wellness programming, encouraging changes toward healthier workplaces and homes. Highmark BCBS collaborates with environmental not for profit organizations to reduce its carbon footprint through efforts like the Pittsburgh 2030 District, Champions for Sustainability network, and the Green Workplace Challenge competition. These initiatives support resource conservation, employee engagement, and improvements in transportation and air quality. BSCA is on the board of the Business Council on Climate Change and is supporting tree planting efforts throughout the state, including events hosted by the mayors of San Francisco and Los Angeles, improving the health for all Californians.

These are just a small sampling of the many great environmental efforts happening every day across the 37 independent BCBS companies. Each month, several BCBS companies come together on the phone to discuss progress in our respective efforts. We hope even more will join us in 2015 so we can capture and share more stories, case studies and best practices around sustainability and environmental health. Happy Earth Day!

Phyllis Barber, Highmark BCBS, Sr. Environmental Sustainability Consultant (phyllis.barber@highmark.com)

Kyle Cahill, BCBSMA, Director Sustainability & Environmental Health (kyle.cahill@bcbsma.com)

Brandon Tidwell, BSCA, Director Corporate Social Responsibility (Brandon.Tidwell@blueshieldca.com)