Reflecting on Canada’s water quality for World Rivers Day

Clara Phillips

September 23, 2022

On September 25 we celebrate World Rivers Day. This global celebration of our planet’s rivers stemmed from the success of BC Rivers Day, founded by Mark Angelo in western Canada in 1980. The first World Rivers Day was celebrated in 2005 among twelve countries and has since grown with several million people participating last year in up to 100 countries. Learn more here about the history of World Rivers Day and its founder, Mark Angelo.

Water quality efforts in healthcare settings

Pollution prevention in wastewater discharge from healthcare facilities is a challenging task. The common products used to ensure a sanitary environment produce unavoidable subject pollutants. However, certain innovations and thoughtful choices have improved water conditions:

  • Phasing out mercury in thermometers and other medical devices
  • Purchasing cleaning supplies without chemicals that are toxic to aquatic organisms, such as nonylphenol ethoxylates
  • Proper disposal of medications, and prescriptions only when truly needed, to reduce pharmaceutical levels found in sewage

West Park’s latest water quality report, completed in June 2022, follows our Pollution Prevention (P2) Plan that ensures our operations (including in the new hospital) meet the environmental legislative requirements with respect to environmental protection. The new hospital will include modern technology to improve water efficiency and lessen the strain on downstream water utilities and treatment plants:

  • Stormwater leaving the campus will be minimized with green roofs, rain water harvesting and stormwater management ponds
  • The demand for potable water will be reduced with water-efficient fixtures, like low-flow toilets and hands-free faucets, and modern landscaping techniques including a rainwater irrigation system, planting native and drought-tolerant plants, and using mulch to retain water

Water quality in First Nations communities

Canada has the 7th-largest supply of renewable freshwater per capita in the world, but this resource is not evenly distributed nor properly maintained across the entire country. According to the Fraser Institute, the overall state of water quality in Canada is very good; however there are localized areas that require urgent maintenance and monitoring. In particular, Indigenous communities face extreme water security challenges. The stats are alarming: 35% of First Nations communities in Ontario are under a drinking water advisory, meaning they have no access to safe drinking water at home. Limited access to safe water can result in serious illness, increased consumption of sweetened beverages as an alternative to water, poor hygiene, and higher infection transmission.

While the infrastructure and operation of water treatment plants plays a critical role in supplying safe water, protecting the quality of environmental water supplies is invaluable. From 2010-2013, 18% of boil water advisories for drinking water were caused by water quality issues like E. coli or other microbiological parameters. In a study from the University of Waterloo that surveyed members from 10 Indigenous communities from the Northwest Territories and Yukon, they found that 7% of participants consume water collected directly from a nearby body of water, as opposed to tap water, due to various factors influencing their trust of the tap water supply.

The Great Lakes provide a significant source of drinking water and 9 of Canada’s 20 largest cities reside in this region. However, the ability of these lakes to support viable ecosystems is strained by the associated population and the urban and industrial facilities. The Canada-U.S. Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement supports coordinated efforts to restore and maintain the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the Great Lakes basin ecosystem. The St. Lawrence River is another vital body of water in our nation, linking the Great Lakes with the Atlantic Ocean, supplying an ecosystem of lakes and freshwater reaches, and home to diverse plant and marine life. The quality of the St. Lawrence River water is at jeopardy due to high levels of phosphorus and nitrogen from human activity through industrial wastewaters, agricultural runoff, and air pollution. As shown in the Figure below, only one water quality monitoring station in Saint-Maurice showed “Good” nutrient levels. Learn about the St. Lawrence Action Plan and the efforts being made to conserve, restore, and protect the St. Lawrence River.

National Day for Truth and Reconciliation

Lastly, we would like to recognize the upcoming National Day for Truth and Reconciliation on September 30. As a vital component of the reconciliation process, this day commemorates the tragic history and ongoing impacts of residential schools. Many Survivors today are unfortunately also members of the First Nations communities facing water security challenges. Across the country, hundreds of activities are taking place to commemorate the history and legacy of residential schools, and for you to learn about the rich and diverse cultures, voices, and stories of the First Nations, Inuit and Métis peoples.

Choose to Refuse During Plastic Free July

Clara Phillips

July 12 2022

This July, join the millions around the world striving to reduce single-use plastic waste. Plastic Free July is an international movement that began in 2011, and provides resources and ideas for becoming part of the solution to plastic pollution. Plastic Free July encourages sustainable habits and challenges you to reduce your overall plastic consumption at home, work, school, and in the community, with the hope that these positive habits are continued beyond a single month. Even with small changes, we can make a collective impact in reducing our carbon footprint!

How?

Embrace the 5 R’s of zero-waste:

  • Refuse… what you don’t need. Simply say no to unnecessary items, like flyers and junk mail (stick a ‘no junk mail’ notice on your letter box), and marketing freebies. Just because things are free, does not mean we need to take them. Think ahead so that you are able to refuse some single-use items when given the choice, by always keeping a reusable bag, water bottle or cutlery on hand!
  • Reduce… things that are no longer of use. Donate or sell unwanted items to give them a new home where they will be used. Additionally, reduce what you buy in the first place. Only buy what you need, and always take a good look in your fridge, freezer and pantry before grocery shopping to avoid over-buying and ending up with food waste!
  • Reuse… for as long as you can. Think about how you can repair, mend, or patch up your items to get a little more life from them, before replacing them with something new. Also, prevent your belongings from prematurely breaking down in the first place by buying higher quality items (if in your budget) or taking care of them with proper cleaning and maintenance. There is a reusable replacement for almost every single-use item. Just a few of these include:
    • Plastic straws – paper, silicone, glass or metal straws
    • Paper towels – cotton cloths (or go for plastic-free packaging, like from Who Gives a Crap or Reel. These companies also sell plastic-free toilet paper!)
    • Bottled water – reusable plastic (try to use BPA-free plastic), glass or stainless steel water bottle
  • Recycle… only if you can’t refuse, reduce or reuse! This is the “R” that we have been made to believe is the solution for reducing waste. However, the value of recycling is far less than any of the first three “R’s”. New products are being produced way too quickly for the recycling infrastructure to keep up with, and recycling is a highly energy-intensive practice. Less than 10% of Canada’s plastic waste is recycled because the process is too expensive and ineffective to compete economically with newly produced plastic. Make sure to check with your municipality about what plastic can and cannot be recycled. For instance, in Toronto, all “rigid” plastics can go in the blue bin, except for black and/or compostable plastic, and many “soft, stretchy” plastics can be recycled, as long as they are rinsed from any product or food. It is important to recycle correctly, because wrong items placed in the recycling stream can damage equipment, and contaminated recycling currently costs the City of Toronto millions annually.
  • Rot… in other words, compost. While this doesn’t apply to plastic, composting your household organic waste, or finding city compost bins when you’re out, is a great way to help reduce emissions from landfills. Check out these resources about how to efficiently and effectively compost in your backyard, or indoors if you don’t have a usable outdoor space.

While zero-waste movements are invaluable as we tackle climate change, they can often create an unreachable and anxiety-inducing vision of “zero-waste perfection”. It is important to remember not to place too much responsibility on yourself (the fact is, just 20 companies are responsible for producing 55% of the world’s plastic waste!), but to lead an environmentally-conscious lifestyle that is easy to maintain. For instance, you may decide to drive 20 minutes to a bulk store to save on plastic, or you could walk a few minutes to your supermarket with a reusable shopping bag and save on time and emissions! When it comes to saving plastic, don’t get too worked up – as Anne Marie Bonneau, Zero-Waste Chef, has said, “We don’t need a handful of people doing zero-waste perfectly. We need millions of people doing it imperfectly.”

It is important to recognize that zero-waste movements often exclude underprivileged and minority communities. Reducing plastic waste by any significant amount is simply not possible for some people. For example, a complete ban on plastic straws is frankly ableist, as some people with disabilities rely on the plastic straw as an accessibility device for drinking. A straw made of any material other than plastic creates even more barriers for this population. Extra time and effort are needed to clean a reusable straw (which may not even possible, depending on the person’s level of mobility), there is an increased cost to source and buy specialty straws, the inability to have a straw that bends is a major detriment for those with limited neck mobility, and there is a safety hazard associated with hard glass or metal straws for people with muscle spasms. Read more about this issue here.

In addition, people in low-income communities may not have the means to purchase reusable items, nor live close enough to a market with plastic-free options, such as fresh produce or bulk foods. As written about in our Black History Month 2022 post, it is important to not just focus on helping the planet, but to also help its people by adopting an intersectional lens and learning about environmental injustice. For more information, check out the Intersectional Environmentalist website.

The COVID-19 pandemic has made it challenging to reduce plastic waste, although this has been crucial for public safety health. The increase in use of cleaning products, masks, gloves, and other single-use personal protective equipment has been vital to stopping the spread of infectious diseases, especially in healthcare settings. However, the World Health Organization has found that healthcare waste loads increased up to 10 times due to COVID-19, with much of that being plastic. As we continue to navigate the pandemic and learn more about COVID-19 protection, it is hoped that this plastic consumption will revert (safely) to pre-pandemic levels. We may be starting to see this already with the lifting of other waste-producing protective measures, such as the closure of dine-in services that caused an increase in take-out and delivery containers, the temporary banning of “bring your bags” to grocery stores, and halting the use of refillable mugs at coffee shops.

While we acknowledge that limiting plastic consumption is challenging, we encourage you to devote the month of July to educating yourself on plastic pollution (take this quiz) and accept the challenge to reduce plastic waste wherever you can (make it official, and sign up here). But remember, strive for new habits that are (perhaps imperfectly) sustainable!

If you’d like additional resources, check out the many posted by Canada’s Plastic Action Centre, categorized by topics like Circular Economy (such as this story about the University of Toronto’s Trash Team) or Facts & Stats (such as this infographic about bioplastics).

Have a safe and healthy summer. Keep it green!

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 

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.

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.