Let’s Talk Trees!

The Importance of Street Trees and Green Infrastructure for Our Health

Streets Trees on Elizabeth Ave, Toronto [Credit: Lauren South 2019]

Toronto is a unique city, full of natural areas including an extensive ravine system, many city parks and green spaces, and biodiverse aquatic ecosystems along our Don and Humber rivers. From the 15km of the Scarborough Bluffs to the nearly 4000 hectares of natural parkland, Toronto reaps many benefits from our green infrastructure. These included mental, physical and spiritual health benefits that are priceless to Torontonians.

Scarborough Bluffs (left) and Moore Park Ravine, Toronto [Credit: Lauren South 2017, 2019]


Trees and other green infrastructure can have a soothing effect on the human mind and body. Many studies show that trees can help patients in hospitals recover faster. A study in the journal “Science” found that recovery times for patients decreased when their windows faced a natural environment as compared to when they faced a built environment (doi: 10.1126/science .6143402). Trees cool streets and cities down significantly, which reduces the risk of heat-related health concerns. There are many reports of doctors prescribing “nature” to patients with high blood pressure, anxiety and depression.

Most importantly, trees clean the air and provide us with oxygen to breathe!

Cyclists in High Park, Toronto [Credit: Highpark.org]

With autumn rolling in, Toronto’s trees are in the spotlight, with leaves changing and creating a colourful blanket on the ground. The scent of fall is in the air, and Toronto’s parks are beautiful locations to visit this time of year. At UHN Energy and Environment, we are lucky to be located a short walk from Queen’s Park, which is sure to look stunning in orange and red in a few weeks time. Autumn is also a wonderful time of year to plant new trees!

Riverdale Park East, Toronto [Credit: Gerardo Rico, 2013]

Despite what appears to be a lot of nature, Toronto has only 27% tree canopy cover, as many areas of the city are occupied by grey infrastructure (roads, buildings, sidewalks, etc). But there is some good news! The City of Toronto has a canopy cover goal of 40% by the year 2050, which will spark many new initiatives to plant trees in the city. For example, private residents and business owners can request the planting of new trees on the city property in front of their homes and businesses.


An important aspect of tree planting is knowing what trees to plant! The City of Toronto has a user-friendly brochure (https://www.toronto.ca/data/parks/pdf/trees/street-tree-brochure.pdf). The best trees to plant are native tree species, which originated here in North America, such as maples (black, red, silver, and sugar), tulip trees, oaks, ironwoods, and hackberry trees. Remember, although certain trees are beautiful to look at such as willows, chestnuts, and European ornamental trees, these trees are not native and can do harm to our natural ecosystems if they become invasive.

You can also use the City of Toronto’s handy Habitat tool (https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/water-environment/trees/tree-planting/) to determine what trees are good to plant. For example, black oak and white pine trees love full sun, whereas sugar maples prefer shady areas. Some trees can grow in many different soil types, whereas others thrive in dry soil.

Now, you may be thinking, “Wow, planting trees is complicated, and I feel overwhelmed!” Do not be discouraged! If you decide to request a tree to be planted in front of your property, the City of Toronto has a wonderful staff of experienced Urban Foresters that can make the decision for you.


There are healthy street trees with enough room to grow and thrive…

Trees along St George St., Toronto [Credit: Brown and Storey Architects]

…and then there are unhealthy street trees, with limited access to resources or no space to grow.

Queen’s Quay, Toronto [Credit: The Toronto Star]

Just like people, trees need ample space to grow, and they won’t be able to reach their full potential without a healthy environment in which to live. One of the unfortunate truths about planting trees in an urban setting is space limitation. Especially along roadways, trees are rarely given enough space to spread their roots and thrive. The tree shown in the image below (left) may appear to have enough room to grow for now, but as soon as it reaches a certain size, it will either not be able to continue growing and will die, or it will begin to destroy infrastructure such as sidewalks (below, right).

Two street trees on Elizabeth St., Toronto [Credit: Lauren South, 2019]


UHN has a few of our own tree-planting initiatives, including a planting at Lyndhurst Rumsey in 2015 (https://talkintrashwithuhn.com/2015/07/15/go-go-go/).

Toronto has many tree planting sessions planned for the near future, here’s a list of them you can find online (https://www.toronto.ca/community-people/get-involved/volunteer-with-the-city/tree-planting-stewardship/tree-planting-stewardship-events-calendar/)

With the smell of fall in the air, school and work are moving at full speed and it’s hard to get out of the City to take full advantage of the beauty of the season. An abundance of urban trees are a wonderful way to capture some of this beauty within the limits of our city.

Toronto neighbourhood [Credit: Daily Hive]

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now”

Chinese Proverb




R S Ulrich et al. 1984. View through a window may influence recovery from surgery. Science, 224(420).

2019 Wellness Trends. Global Wellness Summit.

City of Toronto Parks and Environment

City of Toronto Tree Planting Strategy


Patients, Pollinators and Emergency Power – A UHN Garden Story

Once upon a time, for two years actually, there was an enormous hole in the ground right in front of Toronto General Hospital at Elizabeth and Gerrard. This giant crater was originally created to install two new 90,000-liter diesel fuel storage tanks to serve four emergency generator rooms at Toronto General Hospital. This is really important to keep the lights on and patients cared for in the event of a blackout.

Figure 1: The before (left) and after (right) pictures of new Toronto General Hospital Garden.

Instead of turning it into a giant slab of concrete, Facilities, with a little encouragement from Megan Porter, worked to create a gorgeous green space for our patients, staff and visitors (along with some of our lovely wildlife – bees, birds and butterflies) to enjoy.

The vision for reinstating the area was twofold:

  1. create useable space where patients, visitors and staff could unwind from the many stresses that happen when visiting and working in the hospital,
  2. use sustainable evergreens and perennial pollinator-friendly plants to improve the natural environment.

This was no easy task, but John Lloyd, Landscape Architect, was able to capture the vision and make it into a reality. John created a design that re-purposed the existing large concrete slab, maintained access to the fuel tanks, and  planted a blend of beautiful perennials, herbs and pollinator favourites that will bloom and change throughout the seasons to attracts all walks of life, such as bees, birds and butterflies (how cool is that?)! John’s design helps promote a healthy ecosystem and healthy patient, staff and visitors.

Stewart Dankner, Director of Facilities, noted that “While designing this space, we made sure that everything located in the garden was locally sourced and sustainable.”. This applies to the more than 400 perennials planted as well as the furnishings, choice of stone for new retaining wall, and new fencing. The benches, sourced from Maglin Furniture in Woodstock, Ontario, are made from 100% recycled composite paper! Who knew all the uses of recycling?

Speaking of recycling, the waste receptacles are also local and the most functional waste receptacles at UHN with simple pictures of what goes into each. Lisa is very excited to share this news with anyone that is willing to listen, but I mean who can blame her 🙂 ?  These waste bins are absolutely stunning and so modern; don’t they just make you want to recycle properly?

Figure 2: The new and super functional waste receptacles at the Toronto General Hospital garden.

One of the most unique parts about the garden are the planters, which on first glance might seem normal. These planters came from a company based out of Winnipeg called Barkman Concrete. The planters were custom-made on casters to provide accessibility into the manholes for the fuel tanks underneath the ground. Not only do they protect the access points, they fix what would have been four nasty tripping hazards! (just in case you forgot looking at the wonderful after-pictures, this is actually just a giant fueling station).

Figure 3: Another view of the Toronto General Garden after a successful staff BBQ!

All of these features will continue to make this garden a little piece of paradise at Toronto General Hospital. A huge thank you to everyone, including Megan Porter, Stewart Dankner, Adam Pressick, Vera Kan, Lisa Vanlint, the Ground Guys, who have worked hard to maintain the garden, OJ Muller Landscaping, ProWeld, Landsource Organix, and John and Mitchell Lloyd. Your work helps UHN be the best it can be and we cannot wait to watch the garden grow over the coming years.


Last Straw = First Move

image credit reddit.com madasdfs

It started with an image of a turtle and a straw (and the turtle was definitely NOT enjoying a salted caramel frappuccino). The image enraged millions to just say no to straws or BYO reusable ones. That energy inspired many businesses to do the same, with some removing them entirely, some switching to paper or compostable, or some redesigning products so they did not need them. A few governments have even promised to ban them in the near future.

Though the straw is just one small part of the massive plague of single-use plastic … think styrofoam containers, soda cups, plastic cutlery, padded envelopes and plastic bags … all in all, this is good move. Actually, it’s great! It shows what individuals, businesses and governments can do when they see a problem, understand it, emotionally connect to it, and then (the biggie) act on it.

So let’s make the last straw the first move to sustainable living. There’s so much more to tackle, and now we know that if we care, we can.

If this is your jam, you may be interested in the next Carbon Conversations TO group coming up in October. This six-week series helps you understand and overcome the overwhelming emotions around climate change, and gives practical tools to reduce your carbon footprint.

Until then, have another look at our “24 ways to act on climate”, with a great section on waste (scroll down to 17 through 20) …

24 ways to act on Climate

We know that 24 is just the start. Feel free to suggest more in the comments section.


It’s a wrap!

After an amazing eight months, I am sad to say my co-op term with the Energy and Environment department has come to an end. My time here has been more than anything I could have imagined. It made me realize how important it is to not only be informed, but also educate the ones around you on what day to day steps can be taken to preserve the environment and reduce energy usage.

Over the course of 8 months, I spent a lot of time on a range of projects. The shut the sash/door initiative was a huge one! By ensuring fume hoods and freezer lab doors within PMCRT & KDT were being shut when not in use, we were able to encourage good energy saving behaviour. Labs were also incentivized by having the chance of winning monthly pizza lunches if they have 100% compliance! This program had a bit of growth in the past few months as now the externally facing lab doors are also being tracked as it not only saves energy, but ensures the labs are following safe lab protocol.

My most favourite part of this co-op would definitely be helping run the Earth Week booths at all the UHN sites for 2019. Earth week was a very fun and interactive time to help advocate and promote various changes in our day to day activities that can be implemented, both at home and at the UHN, geared toward reaching the goal of sustainability. Believe it or not, when you are taking the most sustainable pathway, it usually tends to be the decision that is most beneficial for the people, the planet and your finances! Earth week was an absolute blast as we were able to generate lots of buzz, interest and have a lot of good discussions. Many green team members stepped up and helped educate their colleagues about common misconceptions, what role they could take on to helping the environment & combating climate change, and anyone who interacted with the booth walked away with free seeds for their garden!

I also got the opportunity to educate various UHN staff on the new waste/recycling rules that have come to be as a result of a contract change! I enjoyed interacting with various department, whether it be research, in clinical units, or housekeeping, and getting them up to date on what’s going on! Feel free to test yourself on the rules using this interactive quiz – TGH and PMCRT Quiz or TWH, PMH, TRI Quiz – or you can reach out to green@uhn.ca if you would like us to come in and educate your staff on the changes through a quick presentation.

All good things come to an end, as such my co-op. I would like to give a huge shout out to my team. You guys are doing an amazing job at truly bringing planet centered care to the UHN, and I am so thankful to have worked with such a talented bunch. Special shout outs to Lisa for being an amazing mentor and changing my perspective on how I can also make a difference by playing my part in helping the planet. And that’s a wrap!

Good News, We’re Getting Retro

Hi All,

I’m back with a good news. UHN has been approved for a decent RCx fund from Natural Resources Canada (NRCan) for a retro-commissioning study. As part of their Energy Efficiency Program, NRCan provides financial assistance to Canadian organizations for commissioning projects in existing buildings (EBCx), including re- retro- or ongoing commissioning. These projects will help demonstrate the efficacy and benefits of EBCx, while providing greater insight on EBCx approaches and issues.

The RCx fund would be split between two facilities, Toronto General Hospital and Toronto Western Hospital, with the primary objective of reducing energy consumption and carbon foot print through investigation and optimization of existing mechanical and building automation system.


A Little Bit About Retro-Commissioning:

Retro-commissioning (RCx) is a systematic and documented process for improving building performance. It provides a thorough, systems approach-based evaluation to identify problems and integration issues. The main objective is to identify low cost/no cost operational improvements to improve occupant comfort and achieve energy savings.

Typically, RCx project can yield 5% to 15% energy savings. In some cases, it may go as high as a 30%! In most cases, the payback time is less than two years.

Non Energy Benefits (NEBs) and Impacts of RCx:

In addition to energy savings improvements, non-energy benefits (NEBs) are extensive and often offset part or all of the commissioning cost. Fewer premature breakdowns and comfort-related complaints, better Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ), higher productivity and fewer service calls are some of the NEBs.

RCx verifies the set-points are corrects and controls are working properly


A Retro-Commissioning Is Not AN Energy Audit:

Retro-commissioning varies from a traditional energy audit, although they share the goal of minimizing operational costs and improving building energy performance. While an energy audit identifies technology-intensive and energy-efficient capital improvement, RCx focuses on low cost changes in operations and maintenance practices that can enhance building operation.

It makes sense to perform RCx prior to or as part of an energy audit as it offers low cost measures to optimize the existing building systems and reduces the need for potentially expensive retrofit solutions. By implementing a combination of RCx and energy audit-identified measures, it may help improve the payback period of energy audit measures alone. The table below summarizes the differences between these two types of investigations.


UHN RCx Project Benefits to Canada and all Canadians:

The project will help promote Canada’s energy efficiency objectives, and address its clean energy and climate change goals. This will be accomplished by…

  • Reducing electricity and natural gas consumption in the two largest and oldest buildings at University Health Network (TGH and TWH).
  • Encouraging other healthcare organizations and building operators (within the University Health Network and outside) to do the same, by providing information and lessons learned in this project.
  • Evaluating the benefits and challenges of retro-commissioning in a building with a district energy system (Toronto General Hospital).
  • Increased comfort level for building occupants and tenants.
  • Reduced utility costs, allowing for funds to be spent toward other initiatives in the building portfolio/healthcare.
  • As a case study, it will inform similar future projects on the successes and challenges.
  • This process shall encourage partnerships and engagement efforts between University Health Network, NRCan, and other organizations committed to reducing their energy needs and carbon footprint.

At the end, I should mention that the City of Toronto facilitated dispersing the funding for retro-commissioning studies and helped us a lot with our proposal. I’d like to thank Tony Chau and Duncan MacLellan from the City of Toronto for their great support.

Stay Tuned More Good News Coming Soon…

Co-op Tales from UHN

Posted on behalf of Alondra

Hi everyone! My name is Alondra Garcia, a fourth-year student at the University of Toronto in the Environmental Sciences program, and for the last four months I was the sustainability intern here at UHN. As the saying goes, all good things must come to an end and so does my placement here. Before saying my goodbye, I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I have been doing and what I have learnt during my time working with the Energy and Environment Department at UHN.

Waste and Recycling

In my opinion, recycling and reduction of waste is one the biggest challenges towards a greener future, simply because it depends on the collaboration and change of behavior of all who consume, basically, all of us. My first surprise while doing waste audits in the hospitals and rehabilitation centers was that most departments recycle and were doing it well. Keep it up people! However, there is still A LOT to do to divert waste from landfills and our oceans. For recycling to be efficient, it needs to be 90% uncontaminated or it will go to the garbage. Therefore, we need to avoid “wish-cycle”, hoping that what we throw in the recycle bin is actually recyclable. For this is necessary to be informed of the local rules and be aware that UHN has different recycling rules from the city of Toronto.


Here are a few reminders on common items that CANNOT be recycled:

  • Straws, stand up pouches, chip bags and candy bar wraps are NOT recyclable. They go in the garbage bin.
  • Napkins, tissues and paper towels goes in the compost bin. If compost is not available, throw them in the garbage bin.
  • Masks and gloves are NOT recyclable. They go in the garbage bin.
  • Containers still covered in food, contaminate the whole recycle bag. Rinse out that container before recycling it.

Also, don’t forget that there are new recycling rules in place at UHN with a few important changes:

  • Soft plastics and black plastics are no longer recyclable. They must be thrown in the trash.
  • Coffee cups are no longer recyclable either. Coffee cups must be thrown in the garbage, but lids and sleeves go in the recycle bin. To avoid all the trouble in remembering all this, I strongly recommend you shifting to reusable coffee mugs. They even have some perks when you take them to your favorite coffee shop such as discounts or extra coffee. There is a new and updated list of green vendors at UHN coming in the following weeks.

Operation Green

This summer I was the coordinator of Operation Green, a student-run initiative that collects unused medical supplies and donate them to communities in need around the world. They have been working in collaboration with UHN staff, medical students from the University of Toronto, and humanitarian organizations since 2011 to reduce the environmental impact of the healthcare field while increasing social responsibility.

Our next collection is happening on August 21st, so if you have any medical supplies that you would like to donate or if you have any questions, kindly contact us by email to operationgreen@uhn.ca.



This year, our department installed 36 new Electric Vehicles stations at UHN and it is so nice to see that people are already using them! If you ever think about changing your car for an electric/hybrid vehicle, here is some extra motivation. Reducing carbon emissions not only helps our fight against drastic climate change but reduces the pollution that causes respiratory illness. Now, you can come to work, get a convenient spot, and charge your car zero emission car for free.


More details on the EV chargers here: https://talkintrashwithuhn.com/2019/05/21/i-wanna-walk-down-to-electric-avenue/

For this to be efficient, you must know that these parking spots are exclusively for electric/hybrid vehicles, if your car isn’t either of them you are risking being fined for parking here.

Another even better option to reduce your impact while commuting to work is to use your bike. Summer is ending but it doesn’t mean you can’t start now! If you missed any of the sessions offered during this summer regarding cycling in Toronto, here is a summary of the main things to know.

Link to Lessons of Road Rules 101 https://talkintrashwithuhn.com/2019/06/18/lessons-from-road-rules-101/

Lastly, I want to thank the amazing team of the Energy and Environment department for being so welcoming and giving me the opportunity to learn from them. To get an idea of the great job they are doing, let me tell you that they received a very well-deserved recognition in the Local Impact Awards at UHN, about month ago. Congratulations!


Moving right along

As you’ve probably noticed, our shared home has been having a rough time of late. Climate change is looming large, and many of us don’t know where to start. Mike’s post showed how it’s not all doom and gloom with many benefits to climate action.

That reminded me of our list of 24 ways you can act on climate right now. 24 may seem like a lot to digest all at once, so let’s break it down. Today, let’s focus just on transportation. We hope you find this moving 😉 …


Why transportation? Livin’ the COG-life (Coal, Oil & Gas) creates the emissions that cause and worsen climate change. When Ontario closed coal plants 5 years ago, that took a big juicy chunk out of our emissions (and out of our smog days). You can see below that cleaning up transportation could be huge!

Climate change - 1 page - eco


To take a deeper dive in clean transportation, have a look…

I wanna walk down to Electric Avenue

Carbon Footprint

Lessons from “Road Rules 101”

TTC VIP CHANGES – and the big picture

Ride on!