The cosmos is a complex place and I can not promise to tackle the ultimate question of life the universe and everything…this week, anyway. If an answer is required urgently please review the preeminent source: Adams, Douglas. Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. 1979.
This week, Energy Matters. I had the pleasure of participating on a panel tasked with elevating the importance of workplace energy management programs that count employees. An often under-rated, under-appreciated element of successful change.
Many have seen engaged employees accelerate and amplify a good cause. So why so difficult to count these changes? What is good behaviour worth? Well, if you are staff at UHN it is worth $550,000 in utility savings. That is the tune our senior executive is singing this week with the launch of Operation TLC.
Energy experts (our staff volunteers) throughout the organization will anchor good energy behaviour for their colleagues. Feedback will come from management and peers. For the first time we will all be part of a “lights off” culture echoed in actions across all departments and celebrated often.
If all goes according to plan, TLC will look something like this:
- staff speaking up about energy issues
- management making time for staff to speak up
- staff feeling a sense of pride and perhaps a small amount of joy to work in a place where energy matters
- the 97% of our staff who have already told us that “energy conservation is important to me” will be able to align their values with their behaviour
- people will feel weird when unessential lights, computers and equipment are left on
- utility spending goes down so patient care can benefit
Without doubt, energy is gonna matter this week. So, next week I can do that difficult stuff like answer the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything.
Hopefully many of you had the opportunity to stop by the Earth Day booths on April 22, participate in the discussion, and enter your guess for the prizes. Thanks to all who participated and congratulations to the winners. We only had space for one fact on the poster, “How many disposable coffee cups Canada uses each year”, but there are many more you may enjoy (read on!).
But first, there’s a problem. While facts and figures may be interesting, what do they really mean? Making these numbers mean something is one of the biggest difficulties in making sense of our impact and driving change. I thought about using pictures, which the artist Chris Jordan has done an amazing job of and I encourage you to check out (Have you ever wanted to know what one million plastic cups looks like, which is the number used on airline flights in the US every 6 hours? http://www.chrisjordan.com). I considered relating them to other figures, did you know Canada disposes of more coffee cups per year than there are people in China, and that’s just our mere 30 million people out of nearly 7 Billion on the planet? But in the end I decided to use the statistics on coffee to relate back to basic principles that are true throughout our lives. After all, it’s not just about coffee.
This first stat may surprise you. Coffee is the #2 traded commodity in the World. At this point you’re probably asking which is #1, the answer would be Crude Oil.
Think about that for a minute, what we use crude oil for. Oil is everywhere, in our cars, in our power plants, in pipelines, refineries, tankers, and sand, and in this plastic keyboard I’m typing on right now, sitting in this plastic chair. There’s really only one use for coffee and 64% of Canadians say they drink it everyday, averaging 2.8 cups, with 88% saying they drink it at least once per week. Our individual acts, our morning routine, results in 2.25 Billion cups consumed each year worldwide.
–> Principle #1: In a Mass Society, nothing is insignificant
Coffee is not just a drink, a warm and pleasant routine, a break, or a comforting aroma. It is a resource, resources come from the Earth, and sometimes those resources come at the expense of other resources. If rainforests are removed to plant coffee, we lose natural filters, oxygen producers, habitat, biodiversity, and a complex ecosystem. For an example close to home, Canada’s boreal forest is estimated to have a living economic contribution of approximately $700 Billion dollars in services to the world each year (that’s 2.6 times the amount of spending on the Federal Budget).
–> Principle #2: Nothing is free, the environment has value
Brazil is one of the largest coffee producers in the world (nearly 40%). That means we are delivered coffee that is grown ~8000 miles from us (Toronto to Sao Paulo). The journey involves: trucks, cranes, ships, more trucks, packaging plants, people are every step (who also use transport to get to work, eat and likely have a coffee in the morning), more trucks to get to the building where we buy our coffee and the espresso machine used to make it. Someone had to make that espresso machine, deliver it, and power it. Someone had to produce that power and build the building that generates it. And so it goes on and on until we find everything is connected.
–> Principle #3: The world is complex, small acts have widespread impacts
How do we get our coffee? Well for many, it’s in a paper cup. In fact Canada produces 1.6 Billion Paper Coffee Cups per year, which takes 350,000 trees and 400 million gallons of water to produce. One study found that the city of Toronto produces 900,000 coffee cups per day alone. Not only do we consume the coffee, we consume all the materials and energy used to make the disposable cups.
Further, these cups aren’t typically from recycled paper due to health regulations. The old adage, “you need money to make money” could be translated to, “to use energy you need energy”, or “to use resources you need resources”, or “to drink coffee you need a cup”.
–> Principle #4: Consumption requires consumption
The average coffee cups is used for 10 to 15 minutes, after which it spends ~500 years in a landfill. Why? Paper cups are typically coated with a polyethylene or wax lining (to stop the liquid from seeping into the paper). Additionally, landfills are highly compressed, oxygen deprived environments, leading to the slow process of anaerobic (read: without oxygen) decomposition. This decomposition then produces methane gas, which is a greenhouse gas 16 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
–> Principle #5: Convenience = Waste
So what can we do? First, you can choose to buy fair trade coffee, rainforest alliance, etc. These certifications ensure coffee farming is more sustainable. Next, carry a reusable mug. It’s a simple act that lets people know you care about the world you live in and has a meaningful impact on your environment. For every 10 cups you save, that nearly 1m2 of vegetated habitat potential. Don’t worry you are not alone, there are more and more people carrying their mugs every day. Next, try making your coffee at home or sit down and enjoy a mug. Use the coffee grinds to fertilize your plants or garden. Don’t use the single serving coffee makers. And if you do need to buy a coffee in a disposable cup, you can recycle them at UHN.
–> Principle #6: You can do something
This all gets to the heart of what kind of Earth we want to be. There is no us or them, no economy or environment, it’s all part of the same thing. The big question is ‘Will we sacrifice convenience for a better place and future in which to live, or vice versa?’
I always look forward to Earth Day. Not just because it gives this great green/blue marble its due, but because by April 22, the hopeful spring blooms promise warm summers (and the all-important tradition of pints on the patio and cottage weekends). Even with this year’s crazily harsh winter, there was a tiny hint of green.
We here at UHN have much cause to celebrate, especially as our green team has grown to over 600 members. The trick is that we’re scattered across different sites around the GTA, and in these giant hospitals & rehab centres, there’s lots going on already.
By some bizarre coincidence, Earth Day coincided with Volunteer Appreciation Week and an Organ Donor registration drive by Trillium across St. Mike’s, SickKids & UHN. Another coincidence, the colour Trillium used for all balloons, decorations and displays was green. Some staff complimented us on the nice decorating job we did for Earth Day (while looking at their displays). I said thanks and briefly thought about leaving it at that, but then let them know. We’re all for it. After all, isn’t organ donation is one of the world’s best examples of reuse and recycling? I even registered myself.
So while all of these things were going on, we set up shop in the lobbies at Toronto General and Western Hospitals, and Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, just like last year. The big news was adding 2 Toronto Rehab sites to the mix. Bickle Centre and University Centre both represented! And both of those green teams grew as a result.
By the numbers: A giant thank you goes out to the 23 green team volunteers that got this going. Thanks also to the 39 staff who said “Ya, I’ll join the green team” and volunteered on the spot. Thanks to the 125 staff who played the guessing game, and to the countless more that lingered just a moment to learn a thing or 2.
In case you missed it, our booths had oodles of info on energy conservation i.e. giving a flick, recycling, composting, and the 20 great green ideas you may remember from our Revolutions series. And who knew that in addition to being enviro-champs, those green team volunteers know how to work a crowd.
But my favorite addition was a guessing game designed by our very own Chad Berndt. The focus? Coffee.
The game asked how many coffee cups would it take to stack to the top of the hospital. We had guesses ranging from 200 to 2 million.
- Toronto General Hospital: 500 cups
- Princess Margaret Cancer Centre: 754 cups
- Toronto Western Hospital: 469 cups
Why’d we ask such a question? We noticed that one of the most common sites in the corridors is people wandering around with coffee…mocha-lattes, half-caff-grandes, or simple double-doubles. Though some bring reusable mugs (and get mighty discounts), most get disposable cups. These usually end up in the trash. If you drink a coffee every day, it only takes 5 months for just your cups to stack to the top of Toronto General. And if you drink 2 cups a day, it’s only 2.5 month. So why not not lug a mug, or at least recycle your coffee cups (recyclable at UHN in the metal/glass/plastic/containers recycling)?
Congratulations to Peter Rakaric, Tanya Williams, Deanna Baker, Helen Cao and Majid Ghanbari…all great guessers who won either a Bixi membership or coffee gift certificates.
Earth Day Canada says ”more than 6 million Canadians join 1 billion people in over 170 countries in staging events and projects to address local environmental issues. Nearly every school child in Canada takes part in an Earth Day activity.”. That’s a pretty serious honour that we hope has some staying power year-round. So how did you celebrate? If the answer is “I didn’t”, it’s not too late to do something…maybe over coffee?
The gulp factor struck me when I heard the news that Boston was hit with a Random Act of Fear during the legendary marathon. No good, no good at all. Undeserved horror and tragedy in the host city of CleanMed, due to start April 24th. Ed and I had been planning for some time to take part, usually a highlight of the work year, now cast in shadow.
We felt the impact of these events in Boston while we were there for CleanMed. How could we not? But BOSTON STRONG is resilient and we could see that too.
Fitting that one of the first CleanMed events was a tour of the new Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. Located on the Harbour it was built to be climate resilient. In other words they have acknowledged that rising sea levels, severe storms and flooding are a very real concern for Boston right now. The plan is, this hospital will be able to stay afloat, so to speak. An illuminating intersection and concrete physical manifestation of what health care will have to consider in a world changed by accelerated carbon loading. Nobody at the Conference was clearer on this point than Bill McKibben.
You all know him right? You have read one of his 17 books on the environment right? You are following the global success he has achieved at 350.org right? You read his article that went viral in Rolling Stone last year right? No, look him up.
He is a self-proclaimed bummer – but that is not a big surprise for me. As long as I have been doing environmental sustainability work the prospects for the future have been a big bummer. Spoiler Alert: things are not getting better. Mr. McKibben put it this way, ” the death toll from climate change is already at 5 million per year and climbing toward 100 million per year. Compared to 40 years ago only 20% of the sea ice in the Arctic is left.” Climate change is here, now, bummer eh?
This may come as a shock but people around the world care about this. If you are one of them speak up, you are not alone, we are connected, we can influence decisions and stop carbon loading. Which is one of the reasons that CleanMed makes so much sense to people like me. Most of the year I keep my head down working my way through projects that are important for sustainability at UHN day-to-day. At CleanMed I can look up for a few days with 100s of others also working in these troubled waters. Dozens of sessions with tonnes of speakers on themes that are music to my ears. Carbon Footprinting, Green Revolving Funds, Climate Change and Public Health, Purchasing Partnerships and Hospital Energy Management – Not just for Energy Geeks.
I would be remiss if I did not mention the presence of the powerful force behind the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care (see Kent and Linda – Coalition staff, in photo above). A team increasingly important on the greening health care global stage. And that is it…Bill McKibben wisely said that we will not protect our planet or ourselves one lightbulb at a time. We need to build movements that are the size of whole economies. It is time to amplify and accelerate green health care. Some of us are doing that, CleanMed connects us and we all agree we have to be FUTURE STRONG.
In addition to today’s UHN Earth Day events, just in time for Earth Day, archeologists from Energy & Environment have uncovered a series of haikus etched into old hard drives and other electronic waste piled for recycling. We are pleased to share some of the most interesting of the verses, along with an interpretation as to what the authors may have been thinking when they scratched these poems. Read more…
Energy efficiency, as I found out last week, can be a lot like comedy…sometimes it’s all in the timing. Read more…
Not long ago, I was looking forward to a lovely trip to Nova Scotia to chat with some local health care leaders on how to get their organizations to green. “Chat” is a bit of an understatement as it was an all-day workshop. I don’t think I’ve ever talked as much in my life (friends may disagree with that statement). Happily, 27 healthcare leaders from all across Nova Scotia came to Antigonish on March 21 to Read more…