In her role as Highmark Inc.’s sustainability manager, Phyllis Barber has led the implementation of a 22,000-square-foot green roof at the company’s Pittsburgh headquarters; recognition as a Bicycle Friendly Business; ENERGY STAR certification for more than 80 percent of the company’s owned square footage; and a spot at the top of the leaderboard for large businesses in the Green Workplace Challenge. What peers know her best for, though, is her willingness to share her knowledge. Take a look at her Insider’s perspective.
What are some big-picture trends in sustainability that organizations in our region should be paying attention to?
The big picture goes beyond energy conservation and related utility cost savings. While these will always be important to this region, increased emphasis should be placed on water conservation and quality efforts. And, looking beyond conservation and efficiency efforts, occupant and stakeholder health and wellness as it relates to the built environment. People are typically a company’s largest investment, so when the focus is purely on energy savings, it may be at the expense of employee comfort. A balance of efficiency and health is critical. There is a wealth of scientific research available now that shows the productivity benefits of healthy, high-performing buildings.
You transitioned to sustainability after years as a successful audit manager. How did you make that leap?
I am naturally interested in sustainability and the environment, so I began researching environmental not-for-profits, including Sustainable Pittsburgh, and the issues impacting the region about 12 years ago. By attending workshops and public events and networking, I learned about the issues and found an environmental community in Pittsburgh. I was also in the right place at the right time when dedicated sustainability positions were being created within organizations, including Highmark. My background in audit trained me to ask questions and learn about processes and controls, which has allowed me to apply those techniques to create and implement environmental stewardship processes.
With your leadership, Highmark has positioned itself as a model for sustainability in this region, with leadership in the Pittsburgh Green Workplace Challenge, the Southwestern Pennsylvania Sustainable Business Compact, Pittsburgh 2030 District, LEED certification, and as a Bike Friendly Business, to name a few achievements. What project or achievement are you proudest of, and why?
I am proudest of the teamwork it takes to make all of these achievements possible — whether partnering with Facilities Management, Community Affairs, Corporate Communications, or individual employees. Equally important is external collaboration with peers and participation in initiatives such as the Green Workplace Challenge and Pittsburgh 2030 District to further sustainability in our region.
What’s the next sustainability challenge for Highmark?
We’re making good progress. We want to continue to broaden our scope of consistency and transparency of processes and metrics to culminate in sustainability reporting across all of Highmark’s locations and affiliates.
What might leaders be surprised to know about Highmark’s sustainability challenges or opportunities?
At Highmark our vision is to improve the total healthcare experience of those we serve, and a healthier environment promotes healthier people. So environmental stewardship goes hand in hand with our foremost goals — reflecting our strong commitment to the health of community members. In addition, we are very committed to employee wellness, so we’re engaging our employees in a sustainable and healthy lifestyle, spearheading new workplace design standards and programmatically supporting conservation and reuse in the workplace.
The Highmark Health organization is very focused on changing healthcare. We are creating and adapting whole new models of healthcare. It’s an exciting time. At the same time, by being persistent, looking for opportunities when they present themselves, taking advantage of optimum timing, and building relationships, we are forging ahead with sustainability initiatives that have concrete results, and we’re proud to be receiving recognition in the community for our efforts.