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!

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.

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.