One of the powerful benefits of a Presidio education is the opportunity to tap into a community of change. At Presidio, we welcome our students to join and benefit from the insight of our talented and highly driven alumni, who are working to make a positive impact across both borders and sectors. In our going Alumni Spotlight Series, we take a moment to shine a light on some of the fantastic leaders and organizers from the Presidio circle, to learn about their experience as a graduate student and to discover where their path has taken them since achieving their degree.
In this Spotlight, we are excited to feature Erika Kimball (she/her/hers), the founder and Principal Consultant at Kimball Sustainable Healthcare, which helps healthcare organizations improve their sustainability practices. Read on to learn about Erika’s current work and her Presidio experience.
If you could, please introduce yourself! Tell me a little about where you currently work and what a typical day might look like in your current role.
Hello there! My name is Erika Kimball, and I’m the founder and Principal Consultant at Kimball Sustainable Healthcare. Our consulting firm partners with hospitals and healthcare companies to improve environmental stewardship and sustainability outcomes. Kimball Sustainable Healthcare is growing rapidly as more healthcare clients begin measuring and improving sustainability performance. As a clinician-led firm, we are uniquely positioned to leverage the culture, standards, and workflows of healthcare to implement meaningful solutions. A typical day in my role includes connecting with my team to organize client goals and deliverables, partnering with our clients to design sustainability strategies for healthcare organizations, building communications to educate and engage healthcare leaders, benchmarking and reporting sustainability performance data, and implementing sustainability programs within hospital settings.
How did you land in this particular role? Tell us a bit about the educational journey through undergraduate and graduate school that brought you there.
The growth of my consultancy tracks the growth of sustainability in the healthcare industry. I’m a nurse by background and got into the sustainability business organically. As a frontline clinician in the hospital, I was concerned by the amount of waste I generated while delivering care, and by the types of materials used to make clinical supplies. I knew that healthcare providers could deliver excellent patient care while also caring for the planet, by conserving resources and sourcing healthier materials. I began championing sustainability initiatives in my clinical department and started a hospital green team, but quickly realized that I needed business skills to effectively scale my efforts. I obtained my MBA from Presidio and started consulting for hospital clients with a focus on waste reduction. I started consulting after graduation because there weren’t many sustainability roles in hospital settings despite there being a clear demand for sustainability expertise.
Waste prevention touches every area of the hospital and is a process challenge, a materials challenge, and a behavioral challenge. Through building healthcare waste reduction programs, I refined my expertise in healthcare process improvement, sustainable materials, and change management. The focus of sustainability in healthcare has matured over the past few years, and my company has steadily grown into Kimball Sustainable Healthcare (KSH). KSH now applies our deep understanding of healthcare people, processes, and standards to create sustainability and climate action strategies and programs for healthcare organizations. Fossil fuel combustion and climate change are impacting community health right now, and healthcare can save lives today by investing in low-carbon solutions. The healthcare industry is rising to meet the challenge and Kimball Sustainable Healthcare is honored to be a valued part of the solution.
How did you discover Presidio? What did you find to be most unique about the school, and tell us about the “a-ha” moment when you decided to enroll?
I think I first encountered Presidio at a booth inside an annual Green Fair in San Francisco. The idea of a business school integrating sustainability into the full curriculum definitely resonated with me. I knew that healthcare had a blind spot around the connection between the industry’s environmental impacts and community health impacts. I had also come to understand that healthcare sustainability decisions are business decisions. Presidio offered an opportunity to understand the business of healthcare while learning strategies to create positive change. I was sold.
Tell us a bit about your experience as a student at Presidio (in your specific program). What were your greatest learnings at Presidio and how have you applied them in your career/community post-Presidio?
Presidio was a lovely adventure. I was a C9-C10 MBA and loved being a part of a school full of activists and change-makers from a wide range of professional backgrounds. Presidio students naturally have a lot of passion, drive, and personality, making for an action-packed and inspiring experience. Studying sustainable business under pioneering leaders in the field was an honor and such a unique opportunity. Presidio is a special place, and I’m grateful to have had the time and space to explore big challenges and create meaningful solutions with such a dynamic group of peers.
Tell us about a specific Presidio faculty member or course that impacted you.
One class that I really enjoyed, Products and Services, launched my career after Presidio. For our environmental assessment project, my incredible team graciously undertook an LCA, Life Cycle Assessment, of a hospital gown. That study, along with the principles of sustainable product improvements, taught me how to speak in terms of carbon footprint and unit-measured environmental impacts, which ultimately helped me land my first few consulting jobs. I’m still using those skills today.
How did Presidio prepare you for the work you’re doing now?
As a small business owner and a sustainability consultant, there is usually some part of a Presidio class in the back of my brain on any given day. My operations class gave me the skills to build new processes and workflows for hospital waste reduction programs. Accounting and finance are part of my daily business and help me effectively communicate healthcare sustainability in financial terms. Marketing and strategy inform my sustainability planning and communications. And organizational development and leadership are foundational to my work in addressing the challenges of change management and building a sustainability culture in healthcare.
Are there opportunities that you felt uniquely equipped to tackle because of the education you received at Presidio? Tell us about one!
Presidio invests in cultivating students’ leadership capabilities. I remember how nervous I was giving my first PowerPoint presentation at Presidio. Fifty presentations later, I had serious advocacy and communication skills. Being a sustainability leader requires you to tell a compelling story of a better future and convince your peers to join you there. Presidio helped me develop the skills and the courage to do that work.
What comes next? Do you have specific career goals or a vision of where you’d like to direct your impact next?
The alignment of healthcare and sustainability is a natural fit, and I have an incredible team at KSH. We’ll continue to grow the business and build capacity and solutions inside healthcare companies. I have a few dream projects, some that I’m working on now and some that are future goals. I’m working toward a vision of zero-waste healthcare through current projects, which is such a joy and a big challenge. One project that I would love to tackle is conceptualizing how we might design the clinical setting for zero waste. Circular economy practices center on eliminating the idea of waste. What would a circular materials management system look like in an exam room or a surgical suite? Another goal is building sustainability leadership development resources for healthcare, with a special focus on nursing. Sustainable healthcare is an emerging field, and our leaders need professional development pathways. As holistic change-makers and collaborative leaders, nurses are a special asset to the sustainability movement. Sustainable healthcare is our future, and nurses need a clear professional pathway to help define that future.