It takes a (global and resilient) village

Though an atlas clearly shows lines between countries, provinces and states, no one told the wind, water and wildlife that they’re supposed to stay on their side. Case in point, the strange creature we found hiding in our garage that looked like a rat but was the size of a cat. It turned out to be a possum (or opossum, if you wanna get technical).

image credit: Linda Bergman-Althouse; story link: Toronto Star

image credit: Linda Bergman-Althouse; story link: Toronto Star

Those creatures, North America’s only marsupial, originally came from South America and are well known in the USA. Climate change and a super-flexible diet (they will eat anything and everything) has allowed them to travel more and more north.

They have a few other magical powers that let them adapt and thrive in new places: a resistance to rabies, an immunity to snake venom, opposable “thumbs” on their hands AND feet, tails that can grasp things like tree limbs and bundles of grasses, 50 teeth in their chompers (hella orthodontist bills!), and when threatened, they literally “play possum”.

The possum adapts its diet to whatever it can find. It adapts to temperature changes by bringing extra nesting materials for insulation. Though temperatures have warmed here, the colder days can cause them frostbitten tails and ears, so it’s not a perfect system. This proves a squirrel’s fluffy tail isn’t just for looks. Granted, a rat is just 1 fluffy tail away from people hand feeding it nuts from park benches. But I digress…

So what does a possum have to do with green healthcare? Climate change has “change” in the title. Though some of the changes are lovely (it’s a balmy 17 degrees celsius today in Toronto in February!), some of the changes are not. Health care institutions have to adapt to deal with changes in weather, and changes in demand, and it’s a bit more difficult to pick up a building and go. How well an organization can bounce back from major challenges like floods, droughts, vector borne diseases & extreme heat shows their level of resilience.

What Can Your Organization Do To Be Prepared?

There is help out there. University Health Network, a green leader since Ed was a one-man-eco-friendly-band in ’99, has partnered with organizations like the Canadian Coalition for Green Healthcare. They created a toolkit to help health care facilities great and small figure out where they stand and fix it with their “Health Care Facility Climate Change Resiliency Toolkit”.

Sound good? You’re in luck! The Coalition will host a free CLIMATE CHANGE RESILIENCY WEBINAR on the subject on Mar 2, 2017, featuring our very own Ed Rubinstein. Find out what two of Canada’s most engaged green hospitals are doing to make their organizations resilient to climate change:

When: Thursday March 2nd, 2017 12 PM – 1 PM EST

Click here register for tickets:


And we have an update on the 2020 Climate Challenge…

2020 Healthcare Climate Challenge: Gold in Climate Leadership & Climate Resiliency

Due to a super-long history of proactive work in sustainability (which you, dear Talkin’ Trash reader, know all about) UHN was honoured with two international awards last month through the 2020 Healthcare Climate Challenge: Gold in Climate Leadership and Gold in Climate Resiliency. This challenge is courtesy of Global Green & Healthy Hospitals (GGHH), a project of Health Care Without Harm.  With 744 members in 42 countries on 6 continents, the GGHH community has over 21,700 hospitals and health centers. We were pleased as punch to be 1 of only 5 winners across Canada. We are also happy to showcase the lovely certificate below…



Though the 2020 Healthcare Climate Awards recognize UHN’s efforts, we know there is still so much to do. Our CEO Peter Pisters said: “This work has never been more important and UHN is proud to be recognized for leadership as a Climate Champion. We are committed to building on this remarkable achievement by continuing to make efficient, sustainable changes throughout the organization.”

With a smidge of adaptation, collaboration, cleverness & resiliency, we hope to be in this for the long haul.



For a deeper dive:

2020 Healthcare Climate Challenge Awards:

Government of Canada, Ministry of the Environment & Climate Change:

Infographic, Health Care Without Harm:

Government of Canada, Natural Resources Canada report; Canada in a Changing Climate:

World Health Organization; “Protecting Health from Climate Change”:




Guess who’s on the Green Wall of Fame?

You’ve heard of the Oscars, the Grammy’s, the Emmy’s … they may be shiny, but they have nothing on this even bigger honour … the Green Wall of Fame! This is the spot we like to recognize our extra-enthusiastic eco-warriors around UHN. Without further ado, I’m pleased to announce the latest winners….

Congratulations to our amazing Radiation Therapy Green Team! This team, led by Veng Chhin, really works together to green UHN on many levels.  To highlight just one thing is difficult, but we’ll focus on their Recycle Rescue operation.


Frustrated by seeing so many cans and bottles in the garbage, they designed an ingenious way to fix the situation. They use a special tool to rescue recyclables from garbages all around Radiation Therapy waiting areas and units. They manage to rescue a bag full every day.

Veng and Kitty use the Rescue tool (note: at UHN, we can recycle coffee cups. Toronto Residential Collection, no coffee cups)

Veng and Kitty use the Rescue tool (note: at UHN, we CAN recycle coffee cups. Toronto Residential Collection = no coffee cups)

To make it official, they even designed and made custom green team vests (nice work, Nathaniel!) so that when they go on Rescue Patrol, they look the part.

Veng and Nathaniel showcase the Recycling Rescue Tools, while sporting their snazzy green team vests

Veng and Nathaniel showcase the Recycling Rescue Tools, while sporting their snazzy green team vests

There are a great many people on this team and they all deserve a special mention: Led by Veng Chhin, we have (big inhale of breath) Sherrill Archer, Uzma Awan, Angie Cardella, Biu Chan, He Bruce Chan, Kitty Chan, Lily Chau, Nelissa Chaudhry, Susan Chen, Amanda Hogan, Heather Jang, Julie Kang, Valerie Kelly, Fatima Khalfan, Laxmi Khemraj-Balram, Amanda Lamb, Alice Leung, Tamerou Messeret, Nathaniel So, Patricia Toolsie & Olive Wong on this fantastic team.

Thanks Radiation Therapy Green Team! You’ve (literally) come to the rescue :).

Electric vehicles are coming – and that’s a good thing

Electric vehicles are coming – and that’s a good thing


Electric vehicles will have a positive environmental impact but that’s not always what you read. The point of this blog is to clear that up.

Renewables and electric vehicles (EVs) are shaking up long-established industries but there’s still a lot of misinformation spread around.  Online and even in our own Toronto papers I’ve seen some surprising… falsehoods about electrics.  From what I’ve seen most of it’s based on incorrect assumptions or outdated information.  For example did you know that since 2010 battery costs have fallen 80%, a full 7 years faster than expected?  Or that companies like Mercedes expect 25% of their sales to be electric by 2025?  Or that Tesla is targeting production of 500,000 electric vehicles in 2018?  There’s the Chevy Bolt EV out now, the Tesla Model 3 coming soon, and nearly all major manufacturers have now committed to producing long range EVs.  The future is rapidly approaching. (Pictured above: Longer range mass market electric vehicles – Telsa Model 3 and Chevy Bolt.  Images from Tesla and GM.)


So why is this a good thing?

Here are the facts:


1.Electric car batteries can, and are, being recycled.

There are articles that decry “electric car batteries are toxic sludge”, but those claims are unsubstantiated and unsupported.  Tesla has published a good deal of information about their batteries and recycling.  First, their batteries are RoHS1 compliant and fully recyclable.  RoHS refers to the restriction of hazardous substances directive for electrical and electronic equipment, adopted in 2003 by the EU.  Tesla also recycles their batteries 100% within Europe and at ~60% in the US, according to their blog.   Tesla is also building a recycling facility at their Gigafactory in Nevada.  Seems like there won’t be much toxic sludge to worry about.


2. Our electricity grid is actually pretty clean (from an emissions standpoint)

The myth “you’re using fossil fuels to power your electric car” is false.  Let’s look at where we live, with an Ontario electricity mix that includes no coal and only 10% from natural gas.  It’s mostly nuclear and hydro.  Canada on average is also looking good with 63% coming from hydro alone.  That’s a lot of carbon free power.

The USA average doesn’t look as good but it’s improving all the time (and we will see later that EVs are still the better choice).  There we see 33% of electricity from coal, 33% natural gas, 20% nuclear, 6% Hydro, and 7% from other renewables.  Still every year more coal plants are shut down and more renewables are being installed.  In 2015 7.5 GW of solar was installed in the US and in 2016 a total of 14.1 GW.


3. Using electricity to power your car is more efficient than your gas or diesel

I recently read an article that said “burning a fossil fuel to power an electric car is nowhere near as efficient as burning that fuel to power the car directly”.   That’s simple not true but more importantly that’s not even a real scenario.  Just look at the electricity mix above, fossil fuels are only part of it.  Even in the US where fossil fuels use is much higher, natural gas is a cleaner, lower carbon option compared to gas, diesel, or coal.  Not all fossil fuels are equal.  So let’s use our real world information to avoid confusion with some mythical land filled only with big diesel generators.

There’s also the question of what efficiency we are using.  We want an apples to apples comparison so we need to be consistent with what’s included.  The total efficiency metric for vehicles is called “Well to Wheel” efficiency; it includes the efficiency from fuel extraction and transport, the engine, and finally the powertrain to the wheels.

Table: Vehicle Efficiency Comparison2vehicle-efficiency-comparisons

From the table we see that even with the current grid mix electric vehicle efficiency is double that of diesel and three times that of gasoline.  Efficiency is important but it’s not the same thing as ‘environmentally friendly’.  An engine that’s 100% efficient but runs on whale oil isn’t very friendly, at least not to whales.  The next section looks at the carbon intensity of the fuel sources.


4. Electric vehicles will reduce emissions -> by a lot in most cases

There seems to be a large amount of distrust for this, as if electric cars are some sort of scam to hoodwink unsuspecting millennials.  Let’s clear that up because it’s a big driver for EVs (pun there if you missed it).

  • The Union of Concerned Scientists did a full lifecycle emissions review3  and found the equivalent EV MPG in the US was about double that of combustion vehicles.
  • In Ontario my own analysis identified a 94% reduction in CO2 equivalent emissions from driving a Tesla Model S 85D compared to driving my gasoline powered VW Golf.  I also looked at the extra emissions from manufacturing the battery, which would be ‘paid back’ through driving emissions reductions by around 20,000 km.  Coincidentally that’s a Canadian’s average driving distance per year.  I’ve assumed 25% of the carbon is avoided/recaptured if the battery is recycled, in which case the payback occurs at ~15,000 km.


Similarly, comparisons for the four most populated provinces in Canada, the Canadian average, and the US average all show significant reductions in the table below.



5. Transport emissions are a big part of our national emissions

Some people have said that transport emissions aren’t significant and that they are only 12% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions.  That’s false but I think I know how they got there.  Environment Canada data shows transportation emissions are 23% of Canada’s total and roughly half of that is attributed to passenger vehicles.  That math works out to 12%, but that’s not the whole story.

That number excludes buses and freight truck transport, which would also see electrification or something equivalent.  With that included the total rises to ~20% of Canada’s total national greenhouse gas emissions.

But even that is not the whole story.  It leaves out how we got the fuel in the first place.

The oil and gas sector accounts for 26% of our total national emissions.  If we break out the emissions related to the oil processing for passenger vehicles, buses and freight trucks (i.e. the extraction, production, refining into gasoline or diesel, and transport of the fuel) the result is another 10%.

Adding the 20% for vehicles to the 10% for the oil and gas extraction brings us to a total of 30% of Canada’s total C02e emissions attributed solely to passenger vehicles, buses, and freight trucks.

Thirty Percent!  That’s a big deal.


6. Incentives will help make EVs more affordable for everyone, speeding up their adoption across the world

The purpose of incentives is to help a technology mature more quickly and as a result become economically viable for a much broader sector of the public.  Thus the benefits can be had for many more people much sooner than would otherwise be possible.   Governments also invest in the new technologies development through things like tax rebates or grants.  Incentives are one of the most democratic ways of advancing a technology; if people don’t want EVs, no government money goes to it.  If more electric vehicles can help balance our electricity demand between day and night then so much the better.

To decry the incentives on EVs while giving a pass to traditional automakers receiving hundreds of millions in factory rebates or conveniently forgetting the automotive industry bailout is cherry picking facts.


7. Right now there is no better option

I think it’s fair to say Dieselgate proved that clean diesel wasn’t what we thought.  There are also some people who say that hydrogen fuel cells are the future of transport and others say they always will be.   But EVs are here now and looking better every day.

To date the breakthroughs have been incremental, but they are compounding rapidly.  As EVs continue to grow in market share costs will continue to fall.  As power density improves the cars will go farther.  As DC charging expands and batteries charge faster, range anxiety will disappear.  As renewable energy continues to grow, total efficiency improves and electric vehicles will be even cleaner.  We are on the cusp of a paradigm shift in our transportation and energy sectors.  A shift that will help us reduce the effects of climate change, improve our air quality, and preserve our wonderful planet for future generations.

Oh and they cost a lot less to operate too.








Notes and Reference Materials:

Originally this was just a letter to respond to a newspaper article but I was able to rework  it for this blog.  I spent more than just a few nights researching, using multiple sources to justify my assumptions and calculations.  I’ve made my best effort to present the data and  offer a realistic view of the environmental benefits.  I hope you’ve found it useful.


1 RoHS –

2 Vehicle Efficiency Comparison:

Vehicle Efficiency Calculation Notes

  • The results for combustion engines are taken from a 2010 MIT study.
  • “Tank to Wheel” efficiency for electric vehicle efficiency includes battery charge/discharge efficiency (~88%), motor (~93%), inverter (95%), and drivetrain transmission efficiency (~95%).
  • “Well to Wheel” efficiencies include the efficiency in producing the fuel. For electric vehicles we’ve used the grid electricity as the fuel, in Canada that has an efficiency of ~74% and in Ontario ~54%, with around 5% distribution losses.  Ontario is lower because nuclear reactors thermal efficiency of 33% (according to the US EIA, which also shows natural gas stations are 44% efficient).  To account for the extraction energy from the fuel I’ve reduced the EV efficiency by two percent.
  • Fuel cell vehicles suffer from an inefficient production of hydrogen, with nearly all coming from steam reformation of methane, and inefficient hydrogen to electricity conversion.

Vehicle Efficiency References

3 Union of Concerned Scientists Review

4 Battery CO2e:


5 Electricity Production Mix


6 Distribution Losses


7 Electricity CO2e/kWh


8 Battery Recycling


9 Carbon emissions from combustion vehicles


Climate … my, how you’ve changed


Right now, a glance at your newsfeed may not resemble sunshine and lollipops and rainbows everywhere. You may feel a little helpless, a little hopeless and a lot humourless (unless you’re Alec Baldwin … then you milk this for comedy gold!).

The non-alternative fact is, there’s work to do on many fronts. With that, we focus on a not-so little thing called climate change. Our organization has joined with very wise folks at Healthcare Without Harm for the 2020 Health Care Climate Challenge. As we vow to do no harm, that extends to the earth beneath our feet (which affects the patients coming through our emergency rooms). We are pleased as pie to achieve Gold for Climate Leadership and Climate Resiliency! We join a great group of Hospitals and Health Care Institutes on every continent except maybe Antarctica (though the penguins appreciate it too, I’m sure).


Climate science has shown us some shock and awe … and sometimes it stops us dead in our tracks. Kudos to  the creative talents at the Government of Ontario, of all places. They realized we need to keep our sense of humour. They also realized that sometimes the big picture is just too big to digest. So they brought it down to size and made climate messaging fun, funny, palatable and personal. Don’t take my word for it … you be the judge…

Save the kid’s snow shoveling empire! (cuz warming temperatures)

Save the pizza! (cuz crop impacts)

Save the fish stories! (cuz some like it hot, but not fish)

Save the man-caves (cuz rising seas flood your state-of-the-art sound system)

Luckily, there are some suggested actions to go with the videos…

Be part of the solution

Small changes in your everyday life can make a big impact.

1. Choose local
Made-in-Ontario food and goods don’t travel far and cut down on pollution, processing and refrigeration.

2. Choose clean travel
Hybrid and electric cars, public transit and bikes mean fewer emissions and cleaner air.

3. Choose tap water
Filling a glass or reusable bottle helps cut back on plastics and pollution.

4. Choose to conserve
Caulking and weather-stripping can save energy and keep your home warm.

And for a look at healthcare and the climate, we love this infographic by our friends across the pond at the NHS


Power, strength and a sense of humour to you…

UHN: A Medical Innovator, But Also An Energy Innovator

My previous blog described a unique energy conservation project at UHN’s Princess Margaret Cancer Research Tower (PMCRT). With innovative contaminant sensing technology, we were able to convert our research lab exhaust system from constant flow to variable flow, which significantly decreased loading on the exhaust fan motors. As described in the blog, this change produced a reduction in electricity peak demand (kW) of 38.5% and reduction in overall annual electricity consumption (kWh) of 42.7%.

We thought this was a great project and, apparently, others did too! Toronto Hydro has been aware of the project throughout development and implementation and has been key in helping the project proceed by providing energy savings incentives as part of the saveONenergy program. As if the incentive check wasn’t awesome enough, this week Toronto Hydro also decided to recognize UHN’s energy management team for the uniqueness of the project by awarding it the “Most Innovative Project” of 2016.

We are very thankful and proud to be recognized in this way and look forward to implementing other innovative technologies in 2017 and beyond.



Preventing Pollution – one chemical at a time

You may have heard from me in the past couple of months, pestering to set up a meeting. Or you may have seen me running around, with some colourful sheets rifling through your cabinets.

This intro makes me sound rather suspicious but trust me, my actions were not. For the last few months I’ve had the pleasure of working on the Pollution Prevention Plan Also known as the P2!


(I’m not suspicious, I swear)

If you haven’t had the pleasure of me bothering you to help complete this plan, let me give you the quick break down.

Essentially, the City of Toronto requires organizations to submit a Pollution Prevention Plan. This plan includes recording any products used by UHN that could potentially contaminate the city sewers with chemicals of concerns.

This plan follows 3 principal rules, with the aim to keep the city’s water system clean – Avoid, Reduce and Eliminate (quite similar to the 3R’S we’ve all come to love).


Here’s a quick summary of the three rules.

  • AVOID using products with harmful pollutants – this will help reduce the contamination of waste water.

The City of Toronto has identified the following harmful pollutants as top priority in its mission to reduce pollutants being released into water systems.  Not only does UHN try to avoid these chemicals of concern, but we also follow five other policies. These cover guidelines at a national level, provincial, municipal, our organization and even Proposition 65 – which comes from sunny California, (the golden child we all want to be like).


List of nasty pollutants, according to the City of Toronto

  • ELIMINATE products with harmful pollutants from the department, and replace with more environmentally-friendly substitutes!
  • If it is not possible to avoid using the pollutant, find ways to help REDUCE the release of the chemical into the wastewater or the environment. The simplest solution to this is to avoid dumping any of these chemicals down the drain.

At the end of the day, we want to mitigate contamination of the water system.  In Toronto, water is constantly recycled and eventually it becomes our drinking water – and no one wants to drink water filled with scary sounding chemicals like xylene or mercury or Trans-1,3-dichloropropylene.

At UHN, we’re committed to Patient and Planet Centred Care, and by making a Pollution Prevention Plan, we continue to strive to our commitment. This year, we were able to develop a more detailed and comprehensive list. We even added 24 new departments!

My experience working on the Pollution Prevention Plan has been quite an adventure. As a person with a naturally questioning nature, I must say this has made me more of a paranoid parrot … but in a good way. I’ve learned that unfortunately many companies still do not list ALL of the ingredients used in their products (proprietary formulas, e.g. fragrances could contain anything … a valid reason to fuel my paranoia).  As well, I was proud to positively impact the safety of UHN patients, staff and the environment.

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

A big THANK YOU to all the Management and Staff who have helped me to successfully compile this grand list of products and spread awareness about the Pollution Prevention Plan.  I have had the immense pleasure of getting to know many different people, and have learned so much!

I hope you have become more aware of the products that you use in your department or even at home, and the proper ways to dispose of these products.

Thanks for tuning in.

New Year’s resolutions on safer (and healthier) food

Happy new year y’all!!! Health and environment are my passion.
Call it a new year’s resolution, or call it my new sustainable food goals for 2017. What is sustainable food? Here’s what I have in mind for me and my family and hopefully yours and UHN’s too…

1. Buy locally grown food – The farmer’s market used to be just around during the summertime but thankfully Toronto is a great city where we have it year-round! Check out the Brickworks (open on Saturdays)! UHN, as a major purchaser of food, hopefully can adopt this too (when possible)..


The Brickworks

2. Buy organic – Organic food (aka pesticide-free produce) not only eliminates soil and water contamination but also helps preserve local wildlife and bio-diversity. Yes, yes, organic products may cost more…however, you can be more cost-efficient with this shift. Cut-out the processed junk food, buy what you need so you don’t waste food, all of which leaves room in your budget to buy more organic. Think about it, less junk, less food waste, better health, cost neutral! Future-wise, your body will benefit from the healthier food choices and may save you $$$ for meds and other costs of chronic diseases later on (e.g. type 2 diabetes).

3. Grow vegetables – some people already are doing this during the warmer months. I have resolved to do even more by doing indoor vegetation. I bought myself a new planter that would house some of my year-round veggies!!! This complements my small containers herb collection. It also improves the air exchange in my house during the wintertime when windows are kept closed.


This planter can hold a lot of veggies. It’s similar to the wheelchair-accessible ones at Bickle.

4. Reduce meat consumption – Daily protein requirements are 2 servings (based on the Canadian Food Guide). Meat is the biggest water waster and is associated with greater C02 emissions. I am fortunate that my kids have become vegan/vegetarian. I am not yet there (and probably won’t be) but I have resolved to choose to eat more eco-friendly sources of protein without compromising my dietary needs. Less red meat, more fish and way more sustainable protein sources (e.g. tofu, nuts) like these below.


5. Reduce my cooking time and maximize use of appliances – It will take a lot of meal planning and devoted time for cooking for me but doing the bulk of all cooking in one day will save me lots of time and energy during the rest of the week. I can have 3 or more dishes cooking in the oven at the same time and would just need to re-heat during the week. This will save on energy consumption and food wastes. Best of all, it leaves the guesswork out of the week-night meals.

Now that you’ve heard mine, what are some of yours? Have a healthy 2017 to all!!!

Check out these other links…

We’ve Always Known That Eating Green Was Good for Us…

UHN Gardens Show off their Harvest

Foodprint graph by diet type: 

Giving up beef will reduce carbon footprint more than cars

Let’s Grow

Save ON Energy