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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.

Happy World Environment Day!

Clara Phillips, June 5, 2020

World Environment Day was established by the United Nations in 1974, and is celebrated every year on June 5 to engage governments, business, celebrities and citizens to focus their efforts on environmental issues. The theme for 2020 is Biodiversity. The interdependence of humans and the ecosystems and species in which we coexist is essential to our existence. Climate change is threatening biodiversity globally, and its fragility is clearly seen with recent events such as uncontrollable wildfires, locust infestations across East Africa, clear-cutting for palm oil production, and collection of animals for wildlife markets. Experts believe this type of destruction of natural habitats increases the likelihood of infectious diseases like COVID-19. By distressing wildlife, reducing genetic diversity within animal and plant populations, and causing climate change, humans have created ideal conditions for the spread of viruses. To truly achieve a healthy planet and restore biodiversity, we must first understand the network of living systems and appreciate that it can only work sustainably if it functions coherently a whole.

Canada’s Biodiversity

The second-largest nation in the world, and bordered by three oceans, Canada’s abundant space and beauty makes this country unique. While we are a nation of rich biodiversity, we depend on it for survival, and thus we are responsible for the sustainable use of our biological resources. The Canadian Nature Survey, conducted in 2012, found that almost 70% of Canadian adults choose to spend time outdoors in order to experience nature, and that 13% of Canadian adults volunteered in nature conservation away from their home during an average of 31 days per year. Awareness of the terms “species at risk”, “biodiversity”, and “ecosystem services” was also consistently high in every province and territory. While it seems that Canadians may, in general, appreciate and take the time to enjoy their country’s outdoors, there is still more we can do, and must do, to protect our biodiversity.

Canada’s 6th National Report to the Convention on Biological Diversity highlights our conservation plans for biodiversity by protecting fragile areas. In 2018, Canada reported it was on track to meet its target of conserving 10% of coastal and marine areas by 2020. However, progress has been slower in areas of terrestrial land conservation, recovery of species at risk, ecosystem-based management of fisheries, and reducing pollution levels in Canadian waters. These will be continued areas of focus moving forward, as some of our ecosystems are showing signs of stress.

How to Get Involved

Biodiversity education begins with learning. Discover the names of trees, birds, insects and native plants in your area. Once you know a little more, get out and experience the joys of your diverse environment. However, please be cautious of health officials’ pandemic safety guidelines at this time, and if you are looking to visit a recently opened provincial or national park, be prepared before you go with these tips! There are also many ways to get involved without going out into your community: increase biodiversity in your backyard and in your home!

See how West Park is combating climate change with sustainable practices and how we’re leveraging the benefits of nature for therapy in our design of the new hospital coming in 2024.

Thank you for your commitment to the environment. Stay Safe, Flatten the Curve, and Keep It Green!

Take a deep breath… It’s Clean Air Day!

Clara Phillips, June 3, 2020

Did you know it’s Canadian Environment Week? Canadian Environment Week, established in 1971, is celebrated every year during the week of June 5 to coincide with UN World Environment Day, and this year it also includes Clean Air Day Canada (today!). Take this week to appreciate our beautiful country, and to learn more about our unique and diverse habitats. But first, what is Clean Air Day?

About Clean Air Day

Good air is vital to good health. In 1999, Canada declared Clean Air Day an annual celebration as part of the federal government’s commitment to prioritizing clean air for the physical, social  and economic well-being of all Canadians and their environment.

Environment Canada states that air pollution is one of the most significant environmental challenges that affects public health, yet is also one of the most avoidable causes of death and disease. During this concerning time of COVID-19, the importance of clean air has an even greater influence. Exposure to air pollution increases susceptibility to respiratory viral infections and pneumonia, suggesting that people exposed to higher levels of air pollution may be at greater risk of becoming ill with COVID-19.

How West Park is Taking Action

In the healthcare field, facilities are now challenged by environmental interference as a result of rising temperatures, humidity advisories and poor air quality. West Park, as a leading healthcare facility with a tenacious focus specializing in respiratory rehabilitation, has recognized how the detrimental effects on air quality predisposes our vulnerable patient population to additional injury or illnesses.

Therefore, West Park has established additional precautions and corresponding procedures to ensure the respiratory safety and well-being of staff, physicians, volunteers, students, and patients by operating 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. Click here to read more about how we are tackling climate resiliency.

As West Park is currently undergoing the largest redevelopment in its history with the construction of a new six-story hospital, we are continuing to uphold our roots of integrating nature into therapy. The design of the new hospital features bringing elements of nature indoors and extending the therapeutic environment to the outdoors. With trails dispersed throughout the 10,000 square feet of outdoor space, respiratory patients, in particular, can use these trails to improve lung capacity in an environment supported with clean, fresh air supplied by surrounding trees. In fact, for every tree removed during construction, three new trees will be planted in their place. Read the full article about West Park’s campus development, “Nature is Nurture”, in the Canadian Healthcare Facilities Winter 2018/2019 issue here, on page 18.

What You Can Do

Wondering what you can do to help reduce your impact on air pollution? Here is a list put together by Air Quality Ontario:

  • Reduce your car use: walk, cycle or take public transit. Leave your car at home, if possible, or be efficient by doing all your errands at once. Hold a teleconference (something we’ve become accustom to during COVID-19) instead of travelling to meetings.
  • Drive clean: try carpooling and join the commuter challenge. Keep your car well maintained to ensure it runs its best, which will help limit its pollutants. If it’s in your means, purchase an electric or hybrid vehicle.
  • Turn off the lights: generating electricity contributes to smog, so remember to turn off the lights whenever you don’t need them!
  • Reduce hydro usage: air conditioning uses up energy which emits pollutants that contribute to smog. Set your air conditioning temperature a few degrees higher to help improve air quality.
  • Use air-friendly products: avoid using aerosol sprays and cleaners, oil-based paints and other chemical products that contribute to poor air quality indoors and outdoors. Use latex and water-based paints, and try a recipe for a DIY chemical-free cleaner.
  • Limit use of small engine tools: small gasoline engines in mowers, chain saws and leaf blowers emit high levels of pollutants that cause smog. Did you know that gasoline-powered lawn mower pollutes 3-4 times as much per hour as your car? Use electric-powered or, even better, manual tools which don’t produce any pollution. Use a push lawn mower to burn calories and protect the atmosphere, and don’t blow your leaves – rake them!

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

Stay Tuned

This year, the UN’s theme for World Environment Day is Biodiversity. Stay tuned for our upcoming post this Friday, June 5, to shine a light on this special day, and what it means for Canada.


Happy Earth Day!

Clara Phillips, April 22, 2020

Most of our efforts have been devoted to frontline efforts to care for our patients during the current COVID-19 pandemic. There are few, if any, silver linings to a pandemic, but one has been the impressive resiliency, strength and positivity shown by our staff and other essential workers around the world to get through this time of uncertainty.

Even during these busy times, West Park has always proudly acknowledged the inherent connection of a healthy environment to the health of people, and continuously look for ways to decrease our carbon footprint. We’d like you to join us this Earth Day to celebrate our planet and West Park’s environmental sustainability efforts. From recycling to reducing energy consumption, we’ve now also utilized technology to allow staff who can work from home, to do so effectively, thus not only limiting the risk of viral transmission, but also ensuing a  reduction of emissions from commuting, something that has benefitted the environment on a global scale.

We wish nothing more that you stay safe and healthy during these unprecedented times. Read on for some tips to help you stay green while keeping within our health officials’ pandemic safety guidelines.


With recommendations to go out less frequently, or self-isolation requirements, you may have to be more creative with the food in your kitchen and your “pandemic pantry”. This gives us the opportunity to practice reducing food waste – a significant way to lower your carbon footprint (and your grocery bill!). The best way to reduce food waste is to cook with ingredients you already have at home. Look here for a list of simple and delicious meals you can make using common staple ingredients, and try this challenge:

Prepare a menu for the week with your family using as many close-to-expiring ingredients as you can. Get in the habit of rotating older food to the front of your fridge so you can see what you should be using first (this goes for your freezer and pantry as well!).


If you’re now spending significantly more time at home, make it a point to step away from any screens and streaming. Turn off the television, and do an electricity-free activity: read, work on a puzzle or a craft with your family, or practice an instrument.

Clean out your closet: mend, repurpose or donate old items instead of tossing them in the trash. Check with your local donation centre if they are currently accepting donations, and remember to practice physical distancing measures if you do go out to donate items.

Learn how to plant your garden with native species to protect our natural habitats, grow a small herb or vegetable garden, and click here to see how to grow ingredients on an apartment balcony.Read this article for more creative tips.


Join the Canadian Club Toronto and Thomas Mulcair, chairman of the board of directors at Earth Day Canada, through this virtual event on April 22!

Become an Earth Day digital volunteer, join a digital activity, or find a digital event near you.

Thank you for your commitment to the environment. Stay Safe, Flatten the Curve, and Keep It Green!

February 27: Celebrating International Polar Bear Day 2020

Organized by Polar Bears International, International Polar Bear Day is celebrated on February 27, drawing attention to the challenges that polar bears face in a warming Arctic.

Polar bears are magnificent creatures, making it all that much more devastating when we see images of horrifically thin bears stranded on melting ice caps. This rapid loss of sea ice from climate warming triggered by human activity is the single biggest threat to polar bears. Polar bears rely on sea ice to travel, find mates and hunt seals, and less time on ice leads to weight loss and physical deterioration. Therefore, slowing (or, ideally, stopping) climate warming is critical to minimizing dramatic declines in polar bear numbers. It has been shown that one of the most effective ways to slow global warming is to reduce the use of fossil fuels and shift to renewables for our energy needs. Not only will this be good for the polar bears, but it will also help lessen the associated detrimental impact to human health.

International Polar Bear Day aims to enlighten people around the world to evaluate their impact on the environment, take steps to reduce their carbon output, and exercise voting rights to elect leaders who support a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewables.

Want to know what YOU can do TODAY to help save the polar bears? Read this, donate here, adopt a bear, or join a challenge, such as the Thermostat Challenge, the Power Down Challenge, the No Idling Challenge, or the Pedal for Polar Bears Challenge!

West Park also takes this day to reflect on the importance of our commitment to a healthy environment. We continually strive to minimize our overall ecological impact and are resilient to the emerging challenges of climate change. One of our major commitments to reduce energy and resources was recently awarded with the Green Hospital of the Year (non-acute) by the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care, and we were proudly able to report our 3rd consecutive year of below average energy-use intensity. By improving our efforts to promote and develop new environmental programs in 2020, we are aiming to minimize our carbon footprint even further and defend our title as Green Hospital of the Year.

Power to the plants! Embracing the International Year of Plant Health

Clara Phillips, January 30, 2020

The United Nations General Assembly has named 2020 the International Year of Plant Health (IYPH). Plant health has been defined by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations as “the discipline that uses a range of measures to control and prevent pests, weeds and disease causing organisms to spread into new areas, especially through human interaction such as international trade.”

When we think of plants and the environment, we typically tend to think of plant-based diets, tree-planting and protecting rainforests. But, benefits go much further than this. What gets forgotten is the fact that protecting plant health can help end hunger, reduce poverty, protect biodiversity and boost economic development.

As the source of all life on Earth, we must do more to protect plants from pests and diseases. As a society we must take action to protect the environment. Climate change is no longer a threat of which the effects are distant and intangible to us. The last time you drove a car, threw a plastic wrapper in the garbage, or used a non-environmentally friendly chemical cleaner at home, the world didn’t come crumbling around you, did it? However, we are starting to feel these effects in many parts of the world. Devastating wildfires, rising ocean levels, melting ice caps, droughts and hurricanes. Without drastic action, these disastrous events will only increase in frequency and intensity.

How can we as a society do more to protect plants from pests and diseases? People generally have a lack of knowledge of the importance of plant health; thus, one of the main goals of the IYPH campaign is to inspire people to learn more about plant health and take concrete action. The FAO estimates that agricultural production must rise about 60% by 2050 to feed the world’s growing population, and with plant pests responsible for killing up to 40% of food crops globally, not to mention the reduced quantity and diminished nutrients of plants from climate change, it is critical, now more than ever, to educate and act on protecting plant health.

A blog post about plant health cannot go without recognizing the amount of tree removal across West Park’s campus for construction of the new hospital. The sacrifice of the campus’ trees was commemorated in September 2018 with an unforgettable Tree and Land Blessing Ceremony presided by First Nations Elder Shannon Thunderbird, who led a traditional aboriginal drumming ritual to honour the trees and land.

For every tree taken down during construction, West Park will plant three in its place. Our tree count will almost double with more than 1,200 trees on campus, offering comfort and therapeutic benefits and contributing to a healthy ecosystem.

Want to get involved or learn more about protecting plant health in your community? Join the IYPH 2020 photo contest, or check out the resources below:

West Park Named Green Hospital of the Year!

Mark Palmer, January 3, 2020

View this story and more at westpark.org.

In recognition of its commitment to environmental stewardship in greening its internal health care practices, West Park has received this year’s Green Health Care Award naming us 2018 Green Hospital of the Year (non-acute) by the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care.

The award is based on a comprehensive scorecard by which each participating hospital across Canada is measured. The scorecard reviews metrics related to energy use, water generation, recycling rate, leadership, policy and planning and more. West Park is proud to report the following:

•  A 21.1% year-over-year decrease in waste generation
•  A 4.1% year-over-year decrease in water usage
•  A 3rd consecutive year of below average energy use intensity (earning West Park an honourable mention in this category)

“The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change’s annual report for 2019 recently noted that Canada’s healthcare sector was the third-highest per-capita greenhouse gas emitter in the world [only behind The US and Japan] so we are pleased that our efforts have produced excellent results,” said Shelley Ditty, Vice President Campus Development and Support Services. “As we undergo construction of our new hospital development project we will maintain our focus on environmental sustainability.”

The Coalition recognized this focus by noting that West Park has made significant progress in all six policy and planning areas; environmentally preferable purchasing, toxins management, sustainable construction/renovation, energy, waste and water. The Centre’s scorecard also notes that leadership is reflected through commitment, support and outreach all of which can be attributed to management and staff efforts and by the presence of West Park’s Environmental Committee.

The committee has a number of important plans for 2020 including efforts to further decrease the use of single-use plastics and the planning of a second annual sustainability fair for staff and patients. “The Centre’s Environmental Committee is always looking for new and exciting ideas to raise awareness about the importance of doing our part to minimize our carbon footprint.” stated Diane Zdybal, Director of Support Services.

Congratulations everyone at West Park for Keeping it Green!

West Park Holiday Market – With a Green Twist

Mark Palmer

This year on December 12, West Park presented a festive, fun, green holiday event for staff and patients – the West Park Holiday Market.

Due to the current campus construction, the hospital’s perennial Winterfest is hibernating for the next few years, but West Park partnered with the hospital’s Environmental Committee to offer a unique holiday experience inspired by the many holiday markets that happen every year in Toronto.

West Park’s Holiday Market included several vendors, including local environmentally sustainable companies and the Rotary Club’s holiday cake, cookie, and gingerbread house sale, as well as Recreation Therapy’s Helping Hands Beeswax Paper and Gemstone Bracelet sale. The Holiday Market also featured a food drive collection for the Daily Bread Food Bank, a holiday photo-booth, and travelling carolers to visit patients on their units. Staff members and patients experienced a traditionally decorated market with holiday music, while having their chance to buy unique gifts and win prizes!

Busy As Bees for Sustainability

Patients from West Park’s Recreation Therapy were busy as bees leading up to the holidays, working away in their workshop to make specialty gifts that give back.

Introducing their creations at the West Park Holiday Market on Dec. 12, Recreation Therapy sold handmade beeswax food wraps along with handcrafted gemstone bracelets, with 100 per cent of proceeds going to the West Park Foundation.

“Our patients were adamant about wanting all of the money made from the sale to go to the Foundation,” says Naomi Max, a recreation therapy assistant, who says the patients wanted to use their Helping Hands program budget towards the cost of materials to accomplish their fundraising efforts.

The project was decided upon back in September, and patients were working almost every week to achieve their goal of making at least 100 beeswax food wraps. The extensive process included cutting up fabric – which took three weeks alone – smashing pine nuts to create resin, melting the ingredients, coating the fabric, and baking and drying the fabric.

The food wraps are 100 per cent organic, food safe, and environmentally friendly, consisting only of fabric, organic beeswax, organic pine resin, and organic jojoba oil. The food wraps were available in various sizes, colours and patterns, with each sheet selling for $5 or three sheets for $12.

The gift that keeps on giving, the food wraps should last up to a year, with the donated cost going much further towards the new hospital build. Gemstone bracelets, made from high-quality stones and beads, varied in price – depending on the beads used – from $10 to $20. They also included messages of motivation and aspiration, each one a unique representation of the patient who made it. 

Pumpkin Pick-Up Day is Here

Mark Palmer, October 10, 2019

Pumpkin Spice season was alive at West Park Healthcare Centre, and the Foundation was certainly Farm Market ready!

Jay Vagh, Environmental Committee Champion with the massive Centre delivery.

You’re thinking ORANGE – but Keep it GREEN:

Pumpkins make a great addition to Thanksgiving and Halloween décor and the best part is – they are 100% compostable! When the Fall season comes around, remember – pumpkins can be collected curbside with your green bin – but there are also many other ways you can reuse and recycle the festive fruit in your yard.

  1. Add it to Your Own Backyard Compost Pile: Pumpkins are primarily composed of water. Because of this, they decompose quickly and make a great addition to any backyard compost pile.
  2. Make a Snack-O-Lantern: Feeling creative? Use your old pumpkin as a pumpkin feeder for birds and other small wildlife in your yard by filling your carved pumpkin with seeds. NOTE: Make sure the pumpkin is free of mold and only place a few seeds as the pumpkin will naturally decompose quickly.
  3. Harvest the Seeds for Wildlife to Enjoy: Remove the seeds from your pumpkin before composting and allow to dry – do not add seasoning. Place the seeds with existing bird feed in your yard or place in a shallow dish for birds to enjoy!

Interested in more information on recycling your pumpkins into your yard?

Click here for additional information from the National Wildlife Federation!