Meg McGoldrick describes herself as an "environmental nut" so obsessive about recycling at her Chester County home that she frequently calls her trash company to make sure it is really recycling her discarded stuff.

So it's not surprising that McGoldrick has made environmental issues a priority at Abington Memorial Hospital, where she is the executive vice president and chief operating officer.

"We believe we need to be good stewards of the environment," McGoldrick said in her surprisingly plain office.

"We generate over 200 tons of waste per month," she said, her eyes alight. "Just think about that. . . . Just on this campus."

When you're dealing with a business this big - Abington has 5,800 employees - little changes can make a big difference. By asking one vendor to stop wrapping pallets of intravenous bags in plastic, for example, the hospital eliminated 10 tons of waste a year.

Under McGoldrick's leadership, Abington has increased recycling, reduced Styrofoam usage, stopped using products containing mercury, and begun phasing out plastic products containing DEHP, a chemical that can leech into a container's contents.

The hospital recycles 17 percent of its trash now. She wants to reach 20 percent next year. "We keep setting the bar higher," she said.

A Chester County native, McGoldrick, 55, is working on her third master's degree, this one in organizational dynamics. Two of her three daughters are in college. Her husband, a builder who can "fix anything," has his own custom-renovation business.

They met in sixth grade, but the relationship didn't take off until both attended a mutual friend's wedding. She was 28 and had a new house that needed some work. He gave her the lowest bid. "He fixed the house," she said, "and then he moved in."

McGoldrick considered medicine, law and business when she was younger. She felt too shy for medicine and thought law seemed too technical. She gravitated toward the health-care business at a time when health administration was dominated by men. Only five of the 25 students who got a master's in health-care administration with her were female. "I didn't focus on that," she said.

During her 30-year career, McGoldrick has had upper-level management jobs at Warminster, Elkins Park, Medical College of Pennsylvania, and Hahnemann University hospitals. She calls Abington, a rare independent nonprofit hospital in this market, "health-care Oz."

"It's just an amazing place, and we do, I think, incredible work," she said.

She was running two members of the Allegheny health system - Hahnemann and MCP - when Allegheny went spectacularly bankrupt in 1998.

The experience left her with an abiding annoyance toward big egos and with skepticism about plans that seem too good to be true.

"The overriding lesson is that you need to listen to the people around you," she said. "To make unilateral decisions is not the best thing to do."

She has worked hard to overcome the shyness, but attributes her success to hard work, not flash. She sees herself as a collaborative sort who helps others do their best. "It's not about ego for me," she said. "It's about the work."

Contact staff writer Stacey Burling at 215-854-4944 or sburling@phillynews.com.