Busting Myths for World Environment Day

June 6 2022

Clara Phillips

In celebration of World Environment Day on June 5 2022, we present Myth Busters: Environment Edition, where we tackle some common misconceptions surrounding every-day work activities that have an environmental impact.

Distinguishing fact from fiction is often an unavoidable battle as we are constantly exposed to content from social media and news outlets. When it comes to information about the environment and climate change, knowledge and education are powerful tools for making meaningful change! We hope these points will help to educate about sustainable work practices that we can all benefit from.

I live too far away to travel to work by bike or public transportation, so I can’t reduce my environmental impact during my commute.

False! Carpooling is a very effective way to reduce commuting emissions, and apps like this make it easy to coordinate with other carpoolers. However, if carpooling is not an option for you, making sure your vehicle is well maintained will help reduce emissions. These include things like regularly checking tire pressure, changing your engine oil on time, and driving efficiently with slow accelerations and taking it easy on the brake pedal.

Turning my computer on “Sleep” mode barely saves any energy and is not worth my time.

False! By putting your computer to sleep mode when not in use, you are saving more energy than you think. Desktop computers burn about 100-200 watts of power, and laptops burn about 20-50 watts. By turning to sleep mode, you drastically reduce that energy usage down to about 1-2 watts (close to zero, which is what you would achieve if you had turned off your computer entirely!). And, it is convenient – when the computer is turned back on from sleep mode, you can immediately begin working right where you left off. You can save energy from other electronics as well by putting them in stand-by or sleep modes, where possible. Unplugging electronics entirely furthers your energy savings!

Paper is recyclable, therefore it doesn’t matter how much I use, as long as it ends up in the correct recycle bin.

False! While it is important to make sure that paper gets thrown in the correct paper recycle bin, reducing your paper usage has huge benefits for the environment. Paper comes at a cost: “wood products” are the reason for 10% of total deforestation. This is a problem, since worldwide deforestation accounts for approximately 12% of greenhouse gas emissions, and results in reduced biodiversity, and soil and water quality. Moreover, large amounts of water and energy are used in every step of paper production. From making the pulp (which requires burning trees!), to bleaching the paper, to packaging and transportation, one A4 sheet of paper uses as much as 20 litres of water. Make a pledge with your coworkers to go paperless wherever you can!

Packing a waste-free lunch is a hassle.

True… but! We have some tips to make it easier and to stretch your environmental impact:

  • Pack snacks that already come with their own compostable or edible packaging, like bananas, oranges, and apples!
  • Make extra food for dinner throughout the week. Easily and quickly throw leftovers in a reusable container for lunch the next day.
  • Learn how to pack salad into one jar.
  • Scan your fridge for lunch items to pack, and try to use up older food before it goes bad! Get in the habit of rotating older food to the front of your fridge so you can see what you should be using first.
  • Use glass or dishwasher-safe plastic containers that are easy to throw in the dishwasher when you get home.
  • Leave silverware in your office and wash them right after eating so that they are ready to use the next day.
  • If you have a favourite packaged snack, don’t deprive yourself! Buy in bulk and transfer to smaller containers. Not only is it cheaper, but you eliminate waste from individual, single-serving bags.

I want to reduce my meat intake, but vegetarian lunches are too boring.

False! Check out these nutritious and flavourful vegetarian and vegan-friendly lunches, and easy one-jar salad ideas.

I have to throw out my coffee cup in the garbage.

Partially true! While the coffee cup must go in the trash, take a few seconds to remove the carboard sleeve (which can go in the paper bin) and the lid (which is plastic recycle).

Anything food-soiled must go in the garbage.

False… if there is a compost bin. Any food-soiled paper product (napkins, plates, coffee filters, etc.)  can go in the compost (along with food scraps). If there is no compost bin, these food-soiled items go in the garbage. Any wax-coated or plastic-coated paper products are always garbage. Learn more here.

West Park completes an annual waste audit executed by a third party to evaluate and documents the effectiveness of our waste diversion system, ensuring our commitment to waste management strategies. In collaboration with our waste hauler, we continually monitor and evaluate waste streams for materials that can be diverted from waste to recycling streams, saving approximately 33% of waste from the landfill. We are committed to adhering to the ‘3 R’s Hierarchy” to Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and are continually looking for opportunities to innovate or improve our waste diversion, such as through proper signage and staff education. If you have any ideas or concerns you’d like to address, please get in touch!

May the wheels be with you: May is National Bike Month!

May 6, 2022

Clara Phillips

Come along for the ride this May as we celebrate Bike Month 2022! Dedicate this month to riding your bike as much as you can, and enjoy the many benefits that cycling offers for your health and for the environment. Whether you are a new, learning, or experienced rider, there are numerous ways to fit cycling into your daily routine. Ride your bike to work, use it to run errands, or simply take it out for some exercise or a leisurely ride.

Great for all ages, cycling can help offset the impacts associated with sedentary lifestyles. It is low impact and easy on the joints, and you can choose the intensity to match your level of fitness. It has been shown to improve posture, sleep, and mental health, and the cardiovascular benefits are clear: in a 2017 UK study with over 260,000 participants, cycling to work was found to reduce the risk of early death by cardiovascular disease by 48%.

Choosing to cycle not only improves your physical and mental health, but it takes cars off the road and reduces greenhouse gas emissions in the process. In a 2010 Green Paper published by Share the Road Cycling Coalition, various statistics are reported that demonstrate the environmental costs to inactive forms of transportation:

  • Cycling instead of driving directly eliminates emissions from transportation, which currently accounts for 30% of all of Canada’s emissions.
  • Air pollution causes 9,500 premature deaths per year in Ontario, with the highest numbers of smog-related deaths in Toronto, Peel Region, and York Region.
  • 57% of Canadians who travel to work by car live less than five kilometers from work. This causes a lot of unnecessary congestion on the road, as Environment Canada has recognized cycling as the fastest mode of transport for distances up to five kilometers.

Check out the City of Toronto’s Cycling Network Map and Trails Maps to help plan your route. If you can’t commute to work by bike, you can still reap many of the benefits with just a few hours of gentle cycling each week. We encourage you to get out in any way you can – start with short routes around your neighbourhood, and work your way up to running small errands with your bike rather than with your car.

If you are among the 60% of Ontarians who say they would cycle more often if road cycling safety was improved, click here to learn more about how Share the Road is building bicycle-safe communities, and get involved with your own advocacy toolkit.

Looking to log your riding and track how much your fellow cyclists are riding? Use the Bike Month kilometer counter and even be entered to win a prize! Sign up and pledge here.

As part of West Park’s efforts for environmental sustainability in the planning of the new hospital, the campus will incorporate many features to encourage safe cycling for staff, patients, and visitors, supporting a healthy and sustainable way to travel to West Park. Stay tuned for more information coming soon from Campus Development about the planned bicycle spaces for the new building.

We hope that you enjoy some time spent cycling this month (and continue into the summer!). Encourage your colleagues, neighbours and family members to do the same, but remember, safety first!

Community Clean Up for Earth Day

In honour of Earth Day (April 22) West Park staff members teamed up with York Humber High School on Monday to clean up our community.

Our West Park team began at the back of the Ruddy Building and worked their way down Emmett Avenue toward Eglinton Avenue, diligently filling large garbage bags full of trash along the way. They then joined with York Humber staff and students to weigh our collected garbage. Together we took 92 kilograms of garbage off the streets of our neighbourhood!

Keeping trash off our streets is a group effort. In the City of Toronto’s 2020 litter audit, it found that the rate of small litter collected from 300 sample sites had increased 8.1 per cent between 2016-2020. The most common small-litter items were chewing gum and cigarette butts. The city also ranked the amount of branded litter, with Tim Horton’s and Starbucks in the Top 10, suggesting many people toss their coffee cups instead of disposing of them properly. (Not sure where a particular piece of trash goes? Check out the City’s WasteWizard to find out how to dispose of it properly.)

Thank you to everyone who joined in!

A spotlight on environmental injustice during Black History Month

February 25, 2022

Clara Phillips

February is Black History Month – a time of reflection, celebration, and action. For the month of February, West Park’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Collaborative has been sharing stories acknowledging both the achievements of the Black community as well as the barriers still in place that prevent equality, including in the workplace and in health care. Visit this link to explore these stories.

In this article, we address the role of racial discrimination in environmental policy-making, known as “environmental racism”, a term coined by a Black American civil rights leader, Benjamin Chavis, in 1982. It brings to light how climate change disproportionately affects minority groups: Black, Indigenous and people of colour (BIPOC), recent immigrants, and low-income populations.

Environmental racism exists in Canada and around the world, and manifests when environmental practices, technologies or policies lead to increased pollution or health risks in these marginalized communities. When cities are planned, hazardous facilities such as toxic waste management and dumpsites are intentionally kept far from residential spaces; consequentially, these facilities are located near vulnerable communities, creating undesirable living conditions, poor air quality and unhealthy soils. Environmental racism is further illustrated through a lack of green spaces, walking trails, healthcare and mental health supports, clean water, and community gardens. Not only do all these factors lead to inequities in rates of cancer, respiratory illness, mental health illness, suicide, addictions (the list goes on), but the poor health of the soil, water, air and food also affects the entire living ecosystem in the area.

It is well-known that large cities have concentrated air pollution in highly racialized areas, like Scarborough in the GTA. GoodScore is a recent tool created to assess air quality, street greenness, transit and recreation in urban Canada, to map out neighbourhoods’ environmental quality and inequities.

Ingrid Waldron, co-founder of the Canadian Coalition for Environmental and Climate Justice, describes the long history of Canada’s environmental racism in her book, There’s Something in the Water. Specifically, she explains the story of a Black community in Nova Scotia facing a battle against the development of a landfill. The book was eventually turned into a documentary, now available on Netflix, which premiered at the 2019 Toronto International Film Festival. With tools like GoodScore (still in prototype phase), interactive maps, and recent research on links between race, health and the environment, there is progress towards curbing environmental racism. However, we are still far from its eradication. National strategies to address and prevent further environmental racism require funding, Black voices at decision-making tables, and support from various levels of government. How can you help? Learn more about the Black Environmental Initiative, support legislation aimed at promoting environmental justice in Canada, and participate by voting in your local elections or taking action online.

Planting a new year, and joining the conversation

Clara Phillips

January 25, 2022

The harsh recent weather has made it hard to ignore the winter blues. During this time of year, those suffering from poor mental health and mental illness are faced with even greater challenges from reduced daylight hours and colder temperatures. However, the start of a year can be viewed as a new beginning and an opportunity to manage stress, anxiety, and wellbeing with new coping mechanisms and small positive changes. Unfortunately, stigma surrounding mental health brings about feelings of shame, isolation, and self-doubt, leading to reluctancy to seek help or treatment. We encourage you to participate in Bell Let’s Talk Day on Jan. 26 to help end this stigma through conversation. Bell Let’s Talk Day highlights the importance of ongoing action to increase awareness around mental health and mental illness, and encourages Canadians to keep talking, listening, and being there for ourselves and each other. On Bell Let’s Talk Day, Bell will donate 5 cents to Canadian mental health programs for every applicable text, call, tweet or TikTok video using #BellLetsTalk, social-media video view, and use of the Bell Let’s Talk Facebook frame or Snapchat lens. 

There are many coping mechanisms to help manage anxiety and feelings of depression. Make sleep a priority to give your body its much-needed rest. Limit your screen time, especially in the hour before going to bed. Commit time for daily exercise, taking it outdoors whenever possible, even for a short walk. Time after time, researchers also report how indoor and outdoor plants can reduce symptoms of depression and enhance social and spiritual well-being. Plants help purify the air and add moisture to the environment. Taking care of them can also be a soothing and therapeutic task. 

For someone without a green thumb, acquiring plants or a starting a garden can feel like a daunting task. Plus, it may be a long time before we see some earth and soil underneath this thick blanket of snow, and the last thing on our minds is outdoor gardening. Participating in Seed Swap Day on Jan. 29 may be just the motivation! Seed Swap Day offers the opportunity to anticipate the coming spring, learn about new indoor and outdoor plant varieties, and maybe meet some people (safely) along the way. With this helpful Ontario seeding calendar, you can even start planting seeds inside! Many indoor houseplants can also be grown from seeds, any time of year. Seed Swap Day also supports biodiversity, a critical (and often overlooked) factor in a sustainable ecosystem (read our post about Canada’s Biodiversity here). 

“Today’s seeds are tomorrow’s trees.” – Matshona Dhliwayo 

If you are struggling with mental health, professional help is available 24/7: 

Canadian Mental Health Association 

Community Mental Health Programs 

Apps for Mental Health 

Approaches to lowering healthcare emissions

November 9, 2021

Clara Phillips

Public health faces a concerning irony: air pollution is one of the most significant environmental challenges that affects public health, yet about 5% of Canada’s greenhouse gases are created by the healthcare sector. Critical policy and political changes are desperately needed, fueling discussions by global leaders at the Climate Change Conference (COP26) in Glasgow. The COP26 started on October 31 and continues this week through until November 12.

Specifically, developments in healthcare policy towards more sustainable practices are being made by various groups. The World Federation of Societies of Anesthesiologists has created a Working Group to guide anesthesia providers toward environmentally sustainable practices, such as choosing environmentally preferable medications and equipment, minimizing waste, and incorporating sustainable principles within anesthesia research and education.

Health Care Without Harm, an international NGO leading the global sustainable healthcare movement, has created a road map that focuses on transforming healthcare into a “climate-smart” sector through decarbonization and achieving greater health equity between and within countries. As the official healthcare partner of the Race to Zero campaign (of whose members commit to achieving net zero emissions by 2050), Health Care Without Harm has been working up to COP26 to mobilize over 450 organizations representing 45 million health workers to call for urgent climate action to protect people’s health.

The COP26 has shown that efforts are being made at international levels to lower these emissions, aiming to decrease the creeping rate of climate-related illnesses and deaths. Visit here to find out more about the events of the week. At the national level, the Centre for Sustainable Health Systems (CSHS), a Toronto-based Canadian partner with the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare in the UK, has initiated campaigns for replacing or limiting the use of emission-producers. These include swapping conventional anesthetic gases and practices with more environmentally-friendly options, minimizing energy and waste in operating rooms, and mitigating the impact from metered-dose inhalers (MDIs). In North America and around the globe, MDIs have not only become a default prescription for inhalers, but there are too many inhalers being prescribed, describes Dr. Kimberly Wintemute who is leading the initiative by the CSHS. Research has shown that emissions from 100 puffs of an MDI is roughly the same amount emitted from a 300-km car ride. Dry-powdered inhalers, if the patient can tolerate them, can be an excellent replacement to MDIs as they don’t emit the hydrofluorocarbons that MDIs produce, which act as greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

As a leading healthcare facility in respiratory care and rehabilitation, West Park recognizes how worsening air quality predisposes our vulnerable patient population to additional injury or illnesses. In response, West Park operates in accordance with the Government of Canada Air Quality Health Index report. Each year, West Park also voluntarily completes the Green Hospital Scorecard to help us improve our pollution prevention, as well as other climate factors such as energy and water conservation, waste management and recycling, and corporate commitment.

To learn more about the importance of clean air and how to protect yourself against air pollution, check out these online resources.

West Park takes home top prize from Canadian Coalition of Green Health Care

Samantha Pender, March 4, 2021

With West Park well on its way to becoming a new integrated campus of care, continuing to minimize the environmental impact in the future has been one of the top priorities. And The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care has taken notice.

At the end of 2020, West Park’s sustainability efforts were recognized with one prestigious award and two honourable mentions. The Centre won the Green Leadership award for the Year of 2019, and received honourable mentions in the Pollution Prevention category and the Green Hospital of the Year category.

The Green Hospital Scorecard is a comprehensive health care benchmarking tool that measures energy and water conservation, waste management and recycling, corporate commitment, and pollution prevention. Participating hospitals report on their environmental and sustainability initiatives through an online questionnaire and the resulting Scorecard summarizes their environmental performance relative to their peers. 

Kendra Rainford, Operational Readiness Coordinator for Campus Development and Sustainability Coordinator, has been leading West Park’s sustainability efforts as chair of the Environmental Sustainability Committee for four years, and is looking forward to supporting the planning of an environmentally sustainable future at the Centre.

“It’s really great to have our sustainability efforts for West Park recognized by The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care, and I’m really proud of the work our committee has accomplished so far,” Rainford says. “But we have big plans going forward, and I’m hoping these aren’t the last of our awards.”

This is West Park’s second consecutive year taking home a top award, and third award from The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care overall. West Park has a long-standing history of environmental awards that can be found here: https://www.westpark.org/AboutUs/AwardsandHonours.

While the work accomplished by the Environmental Sustainability Committee so far has captured the attention of many, the committee is forging onward to make a greener and brighter future for West Park’s new hospital, honouring West Park’s longstanding green legacy and commitment to environmentally sustainable healthcare operations.

West Park’s award was presented at the Coalition’s virtual awards ceremony in December 2020 by Executive Director Neil Ritchie.

The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care is recognized as Canada’s premier, integrated green resource network driving leadership in environmentally-sustainable health care practices and a catalyst for environmental change by encouraging the adoption of multiple environmental principles and practices to reduce the Canadian health care sector’s ecological impact while protecting human health.

“The healthcare industry has a huge environmental footprint, and we really want West Park to be at the forefront of trying to reduce that,” Rainford explains. “It’s incredibly important to us that our future operations and practices align with our new state-of-the-art, energy efficient infrastructure in the new hospital.”

Green Holidays: 2020 Edition

Clara Phillips, Dec. 22, 2020

‘Tis the season when West Park Healthcare Centre would usually be gearing up for the annual West Park Holiday Market, which has been a great success in the past, however, due to COVID-19, we are missing the market this year, but that doesn’t mean we have to skip out on the festivities. It’ll just have to be done (like everything else this year) through physically distant or virtual platforms. It can also be done with safe and earth-friendly practices, to help us enter 2021 with a mindset centered on sustainability.

Promoting green practices during the holidays is extremely important, especially when it comes to waste generation. Zero Waste Canada estimates that Canadians generate about 25% more trash from mid-November to mid-January than they do the remainder of the year. This waste is a consequence of consumerism and includes packaging from new purchases, food waste, and old items that were replaced with newer gifted versions. Energy usage increases due to holiday lights and increased travel boosts greenhouse gas emissions worldwide, although we likely won’t see as much of an impact from the latter this year. While West Park will not be hosting any in-person holiday celebrations this year, we hope you continue to use the adaptability and resiliency we’ve all shown this year to celebrate festivities in a new, creative and virtual way! Here is a list of tips and tricks you can use to make your holiday safe and green this year.

Purchase ingredients for your holiday cooking and baking from local markets, or if it’s accessible to you, check out the Unboxed Market, Toronto’s first zero-waste grocery store. Try to reduce your meat and dairy use in the kitchen this year with these 30 festive ideas. Challenge another family, friend, or-household to try a new plant-based recipe with you, and trial your creations over video chat!

A lot more time will be spent using digital devices this year to connect with family and friends For safety’s sake, may we suggest taking advantage of Zoom’s unlimited call times to enable and encourage these virtual gatherings? Offset this increased electricity use by choosing LED lights around your home and using a timer so your lights are only on when needed. Also, try to offset screen time with some additional time spent outdoors. Take a physically-distanced hike or build a snowman in your backyard with your kids.

Still looking for last-minute gifts? Give practical gift cards from a local business. Many businesses now offer electronic gift cards as well, further reducing waste and allowing you to purchase and send these gifts from the safety of your home. Gift an experience, such as tickets to a virtual concert, cooking class or another online event that aligns with their interests.

How about giving a gift that gives back? Giving to charities like the West Park Foundation is a great way to give. West Park even has a Matching Gift campaign for the holidays that doubles the size of your gift (until December 31, 2020). Or, consider purchasing a gift that gives proceeds to environmental causes, such as Tentree or Reunion Island Coffee.

If you’re still shopping online, you may consider sending the gift directly to your loved one (eliminating the need for wrapping paper as well!) to limit your contact with others. You can also send e-cards to save paper and postage. But, if you’d prefer to hand-deliver the gift yourself, perhaps walk rather than drive, make sure you practice proper hand hygiene before and after delivery, wear a mask and maintain a 2-metre distance!

Include a gift receipt with your present. It implies that it’s ok for them to exchange it for something that’ll be more useful to them, so it doesn’t go wasted. Many of us are financially set-back this year, and that’s okay. Your loved ones understand. So, you may consider this year to send them a note that lets them know you’re thinking of them, and if you’d like, add an “IOU” note to promise a small gift next year if you’re able.

Gifts still need to be wrapped? Wrapping paper can only be recycled if it’s not glossy or glittery and all tape has been removed. Try looking for non-laminated paper-based or pre-recycled wrapping paper, or try these very simple and effective options:

  • Make your own gift wrap with old magazines or newspapers. Not only does this idea save money and reduce your environmental impact, but you can show off your creativity by selecting colourful magazine pages, or the comic or puzzle section from the newspaper.
  • Use reusable gift wrap by BOBO or DIY.
  • Mark your gifts with tags made from plantable seed paper that will bloom once planted after use! Search Etsy to find a whole selection of styles and shapes.

Most importantly, please remember that one of the best gifts you can give to your loved ones is to consider their health by avoiding gatherings, wearing a mask, practicing good hand hygiene and maintaining a 2-metre distance from others. But that doesn’t mean the festivities have to stop! With these simple ideas, you can enjoy your holidays in a safe and environmentally friendly way, and maybe even be lighter on your wallet.

Stay safe, stay well, stay green, and happy holidays!

The COVID-19 ‘Green’ Lining

Kendra Rainford, August 27, 2020

How the Shift to Virtual Care has Impacted the Environment

As a direct result of the ongoing Pandemic, healthcare organizations (among other industries) have been forced to rapidly and drastically shift the way that they communicate with their stakeholders. While this challenging and unprecedented response has been a demanding task for all who are tirelessly responding, perhaps a source of motivation has been the silver (or green) lining stemming from the positive environmental impacts associated with delivering services virtually.

With so many people staying home, there has been a downward plunge in carbon emissions associated with a significant reduction in transportation. At West Park, many patient care delivery and operational activities were quickly shifted to a virtual platform to ensure continuation of services and excellent care, thus reducing transportation to and from the Centre.

Liz Udler, a physiotherapist in West Park Healthcare Centre’s Rehab Plus describes her experience using virtual care during the COVID-19 Pandemic: “It is reassuring to know that offering virtual care to patients is an evidence based way to achieve similar rehabilitation outcomes when compared to face-to-face appointments” said Liz.  “In the outpatient department, my colleagues and I tried to accommodate our patients by offering various ways to interact, including; phone, email, and video. My patients have reported high levels of satisfaction and it has been an interesting learning opportunity to adapt our practice in a virtual environment”, Liz concludes.

The University of Toronto (U of T) has recently implemented a Centre for Sustainable Health Systems, of which West Park’s President and CEO, Anne-Marie Malek, is a member of stewardship. The U of T Centre for Sustainable Health Systems recently partnered with Canada Health Infoway to host a virtual seminar to showcase the environmental benefits associated with virtual care. During this session, the Centre for Sustainable Health Systems demonstrates that virtual care is carbon cost effective if there is a need for a patient to travel at least 3.6 km for a 1 hour appointment. They also describe the positive feedback loop connected to virtual care. Reduced carbon emissions results in mitigation of climate change associated impacts, which is demonstrated in the included graphic.

While the virtual response required for COVID-19 has been paramount, it has illustrated opportunities for alternative and innovative methods of care that have positive environmental benefits. These lessons learned could help inform the future of virtual care operations at West Park Healthcare Centre and within the Canadian healthcare system overall.

The Environmental Committee is Keeping It Green – Virtually!

The Environmental Sustainability Committee has reconvened using a virtual platform and is diligently monitoring the environmental impacts associated with the response to the COVID-19 Pandemic at the Centre. Members are actively evaluating opportunities to improve the Centre’s response to COVID-19 by identifying opportunities to continuously Reduce, Reuse & Recycle where safe and appropriate to do so.

Stay tuned for exciting initiatives underway and for updates on how you can help West Park ‘Keep It Green’ during these unusual times.