Blue Cross: Leveraging Organizational Assets to Invest in Healthy Communities

Learn How an Idea Transformed Blue Cross

What started as an idea pitch by employees has turned into a demonstration of Blue Cross’ strong commitment to the environment, volunteerism and public health. The organization builds lasting relationships with local shelters and food shelves by integrating local and cultural preferences for growing specific fruits and vegetables. Through these partnerships and interactions, the company engages its employees, responds to community members’ needs and takes measurable actions to address systemic racial and health equity issues.

“The Blue Cross Giving Garden has been such a long-term success because it engages our associates in a way that leverages their skills and interests. It also drives social impact forward on one of the greatest racial and health equity issues in our community – access to healthy food. The win/win/win of this project is that it benefits everyone involved. The garden and its team of champions have truly earned the early moniker of ‘the ultimate onsite volunteer project.’”

Susan Schuster, Principal Community Relations Consultant, Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota

Recent Adaptations

In 2007, Blue Cross employees worked with human resources and facilities’ personnel to pitch this innovative Giving Garden idea to leadership. This garden replaced an underutilized section of lawn at its headquarters with a place to grow fresh fruits and vegetables for a local shelter and food shelf. The garden also created more sustainable land use that protected water quality. From the idea pitch, to what it is now, the Giving Garden captures the values and mission of Blue Cross.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and decreased food security, Blue Cross felt an even greater need to continue its Giving Garden program in 2020. Organizers developed safety precautions and trained volunteers to ensure the wellness of everyone involved.

Outcomes

An enthusiastic response to the associates’ Giving Garden proposal reinforced an organizational culture of innovation at Blue Cross – one that boosts employee social connectedness, wellness and community engagement. Blue Cross does not stop at providing fresh produce to local shelters and food shelves: associates engage with and learn from community partners in order to better serve the community, thereby creating a circular connection.

The Giving Garden has added to the company’s brand value, making it a role model, regionally and nationally. With the growing interest from other companies and the success of two Giving Gardens – Twin Cities and Northern Minnesota – Blue Cross has developed a public workplace giving garden template as a starting resource. The company hosts two Community Giving Garden Summits every year – typically, one in the spring and one in the fall – to educate and celebrate with partners and community members. This approach allows Blue Cross to shift the corporate systems approach to sharing resources for replication and advancing goals around equity and community engagement.

In addition to the benefits current and future associates experience, such as wellness and recruitment, the community also benefits from the Giving Garden. A local domestic violence shelter teaches women how to cook meals using fresh produce donated from the garden. It has also helped advance the Department of Indian Work’s focus of providing healthy food to stem the high rate of diabetes in Native American communities. Company volunteers support this effort and have a direct impact on community members.

Summary

The company’s Giving Garden demonstrates scale and viability of the market by increasing access to food solutions. Blue Cross has inspired leaders at more than 20 Minnesota-based companies to replicate giving gardens on their properties.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (Blue Cross) invests in healthy communities through its two Giving Gardens. This program provides a model to address systemic racial and health equity challenges by promoting food security and access to nutritious food. The Giving Garden program centers circularity by focusing on making connections between systems and increasing access to solutions.

Following Blue Cross’ lead, more than 20 Minnesota-based companies have launched their own giving gardens over the past 13 years.

About Blue Cross

Blue Cross Blue Shield logoBlue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota is a non-profit health insurance company, an independent licensee of the Blue Cross Association. For more than 85 years, it has been providing health plans and unique health programs to Minnesota citizens and businesses.

Through its innovative leadership and community involvement, it has incorporated environmental stewardship and sustainability into its health programs and business practices. With its strong commitment to the environment and healthy lives, Blue Cross strives to build and provide equitable health plans and programs for vulnerable communities to reduce long-term health costs and increase healthy lifestyles.

The company continues to develop and pitch new programs and initiatives to leadership, such as its Environment Action Team, a group of associates working across departments to advance the company’s sustainability goals.