Gordon launches ‘Greening the Labs’ initiative
Dr. Ilyssa Gordon has always been passionate about the environment with a particular interest in recycling and waste reduction. She brought this passion with her to medical school, where she founded a student group, EarthCare, to explore the intersection of health care and healthy environments.
She hadn’t thought about the environmental impact of the health care sector, however, until her pathology residency when she started noticing how many recycling opportunities there were in the lab.
“Hospitals and research labs use a lot of single-use individually wrapped supplies, as well as plastic bottles,” Gordon explains.
This motivated her to join the hospital sustainability committee and attend her first CleanMed in 2009, which she says “was eye-opening for me.”
“I knew then that reducing the environmental impact of the health care sector was my passion and was going to be a focus of my career,” Gordon recalls.
She was excited to bring this newfound knowledge and awareness with her to her role as a pathologist at the Cleveland Clinic, where she discovered many opportunities for waste and energy reduction in the laboratory. This inspired her to start a recycling program in the lab and found the Greening the Labs Committee, which she continues to co-chair.
Gordon understands physicians can have a tremendous impact by educating their colleagues and medical students, and she enjoys talking about the importance of sustainability with her peers and mentoring the next generation of physician sustainability leaders. She developed an online course to educate pathology and laboratory staff about the laboratory recycling program. She has also found ways to integrate sustainability education into the pathology residency program.
“There was a call for ideas for quality improvement projects, which are a resident requirement, and we had two Greening the Labs projects chosen and completed by pathology residents, which they also presented as an abstract at a national pathology meeting,” Gordon says.
Now, Gordon is known as a pioneer of the Greening the Labs movement and has spoken at CleanMed and the International Institute for Sustainable Laboratories Conference. As co-chair of the institute’s Landfill Diversion Working Group, she collaborates with colleagues in hospital, academic, government, and industry labs with the goal of reducing waste.
U.S. health care facilities generate 14,000 tons of waste per day, which is often sent to the landfill or incinerated. Around 20 to 25 percent of this is plastic packaging or products. Gordon works with the Health Care Plastics Recycling Council, a consortium of industry and health care facilities working to reduce plastic waste and increase plastic recycling in clinical settings.
Because of the expertise she has developed around waste reduction, Gordon was named the medical director for sustainability in the Robert J. Tomsich Pathology & Laboratory Medicine Institute at Cleveland Clinic. She works closely with Cleveland Clinic’s Office for a Healthy Environment to identify additional opportunities, not only in the laboratory but across the health system to reduce the environmental impact of their operations.
“Each department needs to do their part to support the overall goals and commitments to sustainable operations, set forth by the Cleveland Clinic leadership,” she says.
Gordon sees strong connections between her work as a physician, her concern for the environment, and building a positive workplace.
“Being a physician is more than just taking care of my patients, it’s taking care of my workplace, my co-workers, and my community,” Gordon says. “I’ve applied my deep-seated interest in recycling to my workplace in a variety of different ways, which not only enrich my own daily experience, but also contribute to an engaging atmosphere at work and in the community.”
Ilyssa Gordon, M.D., Ph.D., is a practicing gastrointestinal pathologist and founder and co-chair of the Greening the Labs Committee at the Cleveland Clinic, where she serves as the Medical Director for Sustainability in the Robert J. Tomsich Pathology & Laboratory Medicine Institute. Gordon serves as an adviser to the Health Care Without Harm Physician Network.