How She Leads: Cathy Fraser, Tenet Healthcare

How She Leads is a regular GreenBiz feature spotlighting the careers of women who have moved into influential roles in sustainable business.

Cathy Fraser is the senior vice president of Human Resources for Tenet Healthcare Corporation, an investment-owned healthcare services company. Through its subsidiaries, Tenet operates 79 hospitals and 193 outpatient centers as well as Conifer Health Solutions, a leader in business process solutions for healthcare providers serving more than 700 hospitals and other clients nationwide.

Fraser is responsible for operational oversight and strategic direction for the human resources organization and oversees all areas of talent and culture, HR operations and corporate HR. She is also the executive sponsor for environmental sustainability at Tenet Healthcare. She says she sees Tenet as being in the business of caring — for patients, staff and the community, with environmental stewardship as part of its commitment to health and prevention.

Janet Howard: How have your personal life and career led you to your leadership role at Tenet?

Fraser: I grew up in Washington State and was raised in a region where there was a deep connection to the earth and natural resources. It was a hub of social and environmental prosperity.

After receiving my undergraduate degree in business from the University of Washington and my MBA from Michigan, I had diverse roles where I focused on health and environmental sustainability, all of which prepared me for my role at Tenet.

For six years, my husband and I owned our own healthy marketplace business in Texas — a place where we could teach children about healthy food, and served healthy meals to busy families.

I also worked as a consultant with McKinsey for six years and worked within a variety of sectors where environmental sustainability was of interest to the customers. I was also a finance executive for American Airlines in the corporate offices — so many experiences led me to where I am today at Tenet.

Howard: How is the environmental stewardship work structured at Tenet, recognizing its breadth across 42 states?

Fraser: At Tenet, we believe in the collective responsibility to lead. It all starts with our leader, Trevor Fetter (PDF), who has embraced quality as a key element of our culture. Tenet’s sustainability project manager is Melinda Lokey, who heads up a corporate-wide council and oversees reporting.

As for our structure we took the dual approach of initiatives that resulted in improved efficiency and environmental impact as well as cost savings — programs like single-use device reprocessing, paper prevention and recycling, to name a few. Most of the Tenet hospitals had programs underway with their own branding, their own priority areas — and many have their own green team.

Our role at the corporate level is to create a structure to it, to capture system data, to set up system standards like using LEED for new construction and to report to our stakeholders. With corporate purchasing, we identify business partners that are instrumental in achieving our goals and ensure businesses provide the necessary data to track individual and collective performance. We have used the Global Reporting Initiative framework for four years for our sustainability reporting (PDF) and seek transparency in our programming. We received a level B from GRI for the 2013 report.

Howard: What are Tenet’s 2014 environmental goals?

Fraser: While the hospitals identify their site-specific goals, at a system level, we are prioritizing healthier food programming as an environmental and wellness initiative. Tenet’s wellness programming engages staff to take ownership of their health and we see healthier environments and healthier food as key factors.

As a sponsoring health system of the Healthier Hospitals Initiative and with several of our hospitals receiving recognition through Practice Greenhealth’s Environmental Excellence Awards, we are focusing on increasing local and sustainable foods, increasing healthy beverage offerings and healthier vending options. In 2013, over 50 percent of our hospitals hosted healthy community events such as farmer’s markets, cell phone collection and other community engagement activities.

Tenet is a sponsor for the Clinton Foundation’s Health Matters Conference. In 2013, Tenet contributed $700 million to care for those that cannot afford their own health care costs. It’s the right thing to do. Our staff helps people understand how to live well, how to get health insurance. Tenet helped 10,000 people get health insurance this year.

At the corporate level, we are also working to develop an environmental sustainability scorecard that can be used at the local level to help hospitals track their progress, help them benchmark regionally and track their recycling and energy rates.

Howard: How do you communicate throughout such a large health system?

Fraser: Melinda Lokey, as the project manager, hosts a quarterly call with site green teams chairs and a monthly call with an advisory group made up of thought leaders and key departmental leads like purchasing, facilities, communications and marketing and food services. Tips are shared around hosting an Earth Day event, starting up a garden, a farmer’s market and best practices for individual programs. System decisions are made, like using the LEED framework for new construction and ensuring environmental considerations are included in key contracting areas such as food services and environmental services.

Howard: Why is this work so important to Tenet?

Fraser: People work here because they care. They care about the patients. They care about the world. They want and expect this. It’s a huge part of recruiting and engagement and attraction of physicians. Practically, we are moving to a world where we will be asked to disclose information about energy, water and waste. There is an increasing awareness of data and social responsibility. We are accustomed to capturing quality and safety metrics and we’re prepared to integrate sustainability data tracking into our overall data capture. We want to be out front on these issues at Tenet.