Gundersen Lutheran Hospital, in La Crosse, Wis., aims to be energy independent by 2014. Hospitals use a ton of energy, so that’s a tough goal to meet. But Gundersen is getting there by piggybacking on Wisconsin’s best-known industries: beer and cheese.

Beer and cheese, while delicious, both slough off a lot of gas while they’re being made. (Not to mention after they’re consumed.) The hospital system has been sourcing biogas from a local brewery and from a dairy farm that makes mascarpone and fresh mozzarella cheese. And recently the system started getting gas from a La Crosse landfill, as well.

Hospital CEO Jeff Thompson, who pioneered the shift to biogas, isn’t some weird pickler guy, though. Energy independence makes sense for the environment, but it also makes financial sense for the hospital, which is saving gobs of money. Hospitals spend about 15 percent of their profits on energy, and Gundersen (which, according to Fast Company, is the most energy-efficient hospital in the country) is now meeting at least 30 percent of its power needs with other people’s waste gas.

But while this is all good news for the hospital, it’s even better news for Wisconsin residents. Suddenly, overindulging in beer and cheese isn’t just a fun state pastime: It’s your civic duty for promoting environmentalism and health care.

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