On April 17, the 2024 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) Awards recognized Keck Medical Center of USC for finding a way to save over 1.7 million gallons of water in a single year.

Each year, the LADWP Key Accounts Group recognizes the most successful large-scale sustainability initiatives of the prior year. In previous years, Keck Medical Center was recognized for energy conservation and the installation of electric vehicle (EV) chargers in its parking lots and structures.

This year’s water conservation achievement is the result of installing 232 laminar flow devices throughout the medical center. These devices are advanced water-flow restrictors that, unlike traditional aerators, produce a clear, efficient stream of water.

Miguel Gonzalez, Keck Medicine of USC’s associate administrator for support services in charge of facilities operations, said that this year’s water savings are just the beginning.

“The nice thing about the company that installed the devices is that they’ll come every year to make sure they’re still working properly and to replace them as needed,” said Gonzalez, who leads the health system’s overall sustainability movement.

Gonzalez plans to continue installing laminar flow devices throughout the system. He credits Keck Hospital of USC for being the first to install these devices followed quickly by USC Verdugo Hills Hospital.

Sustainability growth at Keck Medicine

Gonzalez notes that, for Keck Medicine, the most effective approach to sustainability is to focus on “low-hanging fruit” — inexpensive and seemingly small changes that each make a tremendous impact. These efforts cover a broad swath of projects across the health system.

In energy: All lighting is being retrofitted to utilize LEDs.

In transportation: EV chargers were installed at Keck Medical Center, and plans to make fleet vehicles electric are in the works.

In food services: Sustainable products are making their way into the system that feeds patients and staff, including fresh, organic, locally grown produce. In addition, the elimination of single-use plastic bottles and plastic utensils has reduced our plastic waste significantly.

In patient care: Keck Medicine staff are collecting and reprocessing single-use medical devices through a program established by Stryker Sustainability. Surgical packs used in operating rooms and other procedural spaces are being evaluated and redesigned to reduce waste.

Finally, Gonzalez is planning a recycling program that would include a robust educational component to reduce the contamination of recyclable materials by items that belong in the trash instead.

Keck Medicine’s growing sustainability movement

The health system’s sustainability initiatives support Assignment: Earth, USC President Carol L. Folt’s moonshot initiative for making the entire university greener.

Gonzalez is recognized as the leader of the movement at Keck Medicine, but he readily shares credit with a core group of individuals who each play a key role: Jon Reuter, chief of Keck Hospital of USC operations, and Gonzalez’s boss; Arash Motamed, MD, medical director of sustainability and Keck Hospital of USC’s operating rooms; Erwin Morales, administrative director for plant maintenance, who brought the laminar flow idea to Gonzalez; and, as of Monday, April 22, — fittingly, Earth Day — Angela Wan, Keck Medicine’s first sustainability program manager.

The team receives additional support from Bhavna Sharma, an assistant professor from the USC School of Architecture who specializes in sustainability, as well as a swiftly growing pool of student volunteers from all over the university.

While Gonzalez is proud that the LADWP recognized Keck Medicine’s achievement in water conservation, his inspiration is personal.

“I try to live as sustainably as possible,” he said. “Being able to carry that over into my work and having leadership at Keck Hospital that supports it has been amazing. At Keck Hospital, everyone is engaged. Everyone wants to do the right thing.”

— Kate Faye