Hot enough for ya?

Today, Ontario and parts of the USA brace for the hottest day of 2019 so far. The “so far” part makes it even more frightening, like the twist ending of a horror movie just gunning for a sequel. We know that climate change, or the climate crisis (climate change’s newer name, now with added urgency), is behind these crazy heat domes.

image credit: CBC and NOAA

The irony here is that heat domes and heat waves are worsened by the climate crisis, while people burning fossil fuels cause the climate crisis, and people will burn more fossil fuels to keep air conditioners running full tilt because of the heat, which makes the climate crisis worse and intolerable heat more frequent. “Yikes!” doesn’t quite cover it.

So how do we keep cool without making the climate crisis worse?

How we power our air conditioners makes a difference. Here in Ontario, we phased out coal plants way back in 2013.

Nov 2013: Al Gore talks climate after Premier Kathleen Wynne announced Ontario closing all coal plants. Almost no smog days since they closed.

Since kicking coal to the can, Ontario has seen almost no smog days! We still have natural gas but most of our electricity does not give off unfriendly emissions. More good news … “in 2018, the Government of Canada announced final regulations to phase-out traditional coal-fired electricity by 2030″. These are reasons to be cheerful.

Our recent Deep Lake Cooling project at Toronto General Hospital, Toronto Rehab Institute, and coming soon to Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, shows an even lower carbon way of cooling, and one that also saves a ton of water too! For a liveable future, the answer is transitioning to sustainable energy like wind, solar, hydroelectric, tidal, geothermal, or something not yet invented.

How much we power our air conditioners also makes a difference. Have you ever wandered into a building in summertime, maybe your own office, only to find the AC cranked so high you need a sweater? Does your spouse or someone in your house create an arctic habitat in your living room so you need to throw on a blanket and fuzzy socks?

image credit:

This one is easy … change the setpoint on the AC 2, 3 or even 4 degrees higher (find the sweet spot), or talk to building management to complain. The squeaky wheel gets the AC changed. Those programmable thermostats are also fantastic for letting our houses warm up while we’re away, then cool again when we need it. The smart ones even let you change it up from your phone. We were lucky enough to get one for free from the former GreenON rebate program, and enjoy setting the AC back to occupancy levels when we’re 15 minutes from home.

Another way to keep cool while easing the pressure on the AC is right in your window. This may seem too simple, but it works … keep blinds and curtains closed during the day so the sun doesn’t heat up your space (the opposite is true in winter).

image credit: zebra blinds

This and 24 other climate friendly ideas can help you and the planet stay cool and be well.


Haiku SBAR: The Poetry of UHN’s New Recycling Rules – Talkin’ Trash, July 2019

The Poetry Of Waste

(Or a waste of poetry? Apologies to poets, readers of poetry and people everywhere who use words.)

Sorry, but many

links will work only if you

are at UHN.


UHN has a

new recycling and garbage

contract, “rules” have changed”.

Continue reading

Carbon Footprint

Carbon footprint is the measurement of the amount of land we need to survive. The land we need to grow crops, harvest resources, and dispose waste. The ideal carbon footprint is 1.73 global hectares per person. Unfortunately, the current carbon footprint is 2.84 global hectares per person and Canada’s average carbon footprint is 8.17 global hectares per person. We require 5.33 more global hectares to sustain ourselves than the average human. How do we lower this number?


The average Canadian footprint is largely due to our giant consumption of electricity and energy. Simple acts such as turning off the lights when you leave or using natural light can reduce your footprint and decrease your electricity cost! Furthermore, you can make a goal to start carpooling or to buy an electric car. The less electricity you need, the less your footprint and electricity bill is.


Probably the hardest goal for many is to eat less meat, especially red meat. Although delicious, red meat, such as beef, takes a great toll on the environment. One pound of beef requires 7 pounds of feed. Animals require a lot of water to grow their feed — to get beef, you would require around 16 thousand m3 of water per ton. Furthermore, the land needed to grow animals destroys many habitats. You do not have to stop eating meat, but try eating less meat, especially red meat.


Finally, eat local, organically grown food. Exotic foods require transportation to get to you. The further away the source is, the more costly the food is. You would need more fuel to bring the food to you by land, water, and/or air. Furthermore, some foods require special treatment, such as refrigeration. Long distances will increase the cost of the treatment. You can even try to grow some vegetables in your own backyard!

We must always try our best to save the environment and decrease our carbon footprint. If we reduce the footprint, we would make our lives, and the lives of the future generations better.

Let’s get GROWing: Toronto Rehab Bickle Centre’s “Garden Rehab on Wheels” kicks off their 4th growing season!

Hi everyone:

Guest blogger Amanda here, reporting on “GROW: Garden Rehab on Wheels” from Toronto Rehab’s Bickle Centre!  Despite the cool, rainy spring, we have been hard at work getting things ready to GROW for our fourth season!

Planning started in April before all the snow had melted and gardening felt a million years away, when we set up a booth in the lobby to see what our patients, families and staff wanted to see growing this season.  We tried to get a good number of “wish list” items in different categories: legumes, roots, leafs and fruit-bearing, so that we could attempt some basic crop rotation from last year, which helps to grow better crops this year based on how last year’s plants left the soil.  Pretty cool, right?  We also wanted to add some flowers for the natural pest repelling that they do (and their beautification of the garden, of course!).  Shout-out to garden volunteer Mahnoor Muqeem, who then took on the mind-boggling task of putting our garden wish list into a specific planting plan.

We officially kicked off the season in May with colleagues from far and wide.  An awesome group called Nourish Healthcare caught wind of our garden project and asked to come for a visit, with a group of healthcare leaders across the country, as part of their Food For Health Symposium May 15.  (If you haven’t heard of Nourish yet, be sure to check them out–  –they are doing amazing work around innovations to make hospital food more sustainable and nutritious).   When they first called me to ask if they could come, I said yes, but…. “Do you realize that our garden will be unplanted and not very pretty looking that time of year?”  And, “do you realize that we are enthusiastic champions of gardening we are not expert urban growers?” (See: )  Their response was so encouraging: YES, we realize all of the above, but we still think your garden project is pretty cool and want to see for ourselves what you’ve been doing!

So, on May 15, a small bus pulled up to Bickle, and 24 symposium-goers from Haida Gwaii in BC to Montreal and everywhere in between piled off, eager to chat with us about the GROW program and snap some pictures of our wheelchair-accessible garden boxes.  We were also joined by the amazing Ed Rubinstein who chatted about UHN’s environmental and sustainability initiatives.  It was a great afternoon of idea sharing and collaborating (and the weather cooperated just enough to allow us to stay outside for half the session!)

In June we finally felt confident that the weather was good enough to let us get outside and going, so the real hands-on work began!  We replenished the boxes with some of our own home-grown compost (putting those lunch-time apple cores to work) as well as worm castings (which is less glamorously known as worm poop, but regardless works like magic for helping plants grow), and then got planting.  We are looking forward to some GROW favorites like lettuce and zucchini, and are excited for a few new-to-GROW crops like purple sweet peppers and rapini.

The finishing touch was our garden box signs, specially designed with pictures for those who are unable to read English or have aphasia (a communication disorder that can affect one’s ability to comprehend words).  It is always fun to see these being used as conversation starters between patients and their loved ones.

The garden was planted just in time to be able to be enjoyed by patients, families and staff alike as part of Bickle’s annual garden party social, and even got a makeover for the day with some beautiful fresh flowers!

Now, time to wait for those seeds to sprout and seedlings to grow: as we wrap up Spring, we have lots to look forward to in the summer.   I for one am looking forward to enjoying the fruits of our labour, with one of our famous salad potlucks, complete with fresh vegetables from the garden and toppings to share from home.  Cheers!

Lessons from “Road Rules 101”

Last week, we got the opportunity to attend a workshop by Cycle Toronto on the cyclist’s rights and responsibilities, and clarify some procedures under special, but common, scenarios.  Cycle Toronto is a non for-profit and member-supported organization that has as its mission to create “a healthy, safe, cycling-friendly city for all”. You can join by paying an annual membership of $30 which includes benefits such as legal representation in case of collision. Very handy, right? Currently, they have about 3000 members and, together, they work in advocacy, education and encouragement to get you on your bike!

Sharing the road with cyclists is not always very intuitive. Whether you are a new or not so new cyclist, a driver or pedestrian, these lessons will be useful and may even surprise you!

In reality, cyclists act as a combination of vehicles and pedestrians in Toronto which can be confusing on how to act when sharing the road. The first thing to know is that cyclists are considered in the same category as vehicles under the Highway Act of Ontario, therefore, they have the same responsibilities and rights. For example, using the lane when there is not a bike lane marked and using the same hand signals when turning.

(The basics of safe cycling is to indicate what are you going to do before doing it!)

What most people don’t know is that bicycles should have 1 m space away from cars.  This means that cyclists have the right to use a complete lane and as a driver if you want to pass you should pass leaving 1 m space from bikes. Respect that space, it’s safer for everyone! As a cyclist, it is also strongly recommended to be 1 m away from the curb. A lot of cyclists (me included) put their foot on the curb when waiting at a stop sign or traffic light. It is better if you stay in the middle of the bike lane.

Turning right

One of the most common and dangerous situations is when a car wants to turn right when there is a bike lane. In this case, the best thing to do as a cyclist is to go around through the left. If you don’t feel confident or safe merging with the traffic, stop! Wait until the car has turned and continue your path. As a driver, beware of cyclists coming in the bike lane, double check your blind spots and proceed with precaution.

(image credit:

Negotiating space with large vehicles

It’s very important to remember that large vehicles have bigger blind spots and the best and safest procedure is to pass them through the left: shoulder check, signal, shoulder check, merge.  Never try to pass them through the right, never!

Stopping in a bike lane

In my short time cycling in Toronto’s streets, the most frequent complaint I have heard is regarding taxis parking in the bike lanes to pick up or drop off passengers. Although not ideal for cyclist, this is legal! Taxis, public transportation vehicles, emergency vehicles, wheelchair vehicles and even delivery vehicles are allowed to park in bike lanes for short periods of time. Hopefully this will change in the future. As for now, let’s understand that they are allowed to do so. If you are a cyclist and encounter this case, you should do a safe lane change to pass on the left or wait to be safe. If you are a driver of any of these vehicles, be mindful and park when you are completely sure there are no cyclists right behind or beside you. Don’t forget you’re also responsible for your passengers!

However, Uber, Lyft and regular cars are not allowed to block the bike lane. Not even to grab a quick coffee! If you find this, let the owner of the car know that this is illegal. They may not know it. Or you can notify the police.

Turning left

As a cyclist you can either do a vehicular left (check for a gap in traffic, give the turn-left hand signal, move to leftmost lane using the complete lane, and turn!), using a box turn left if you have issues merging into traffic (staying in the right while crossing the intersection, stop at the front of the rightmost lane of cross traffic and wait for the light and proceed straight to complete you left turn), or cross the crosswalk as a pedestrian. These three options are completely valid!

If you are a driver and see a green bike box (like the one in the figure below) you are in the obligation to stop behind them. These boxes are made to facilitate the flow and turns of cyclists.

(image credit:

One-way traffic

Technically, bikes are obligated to follow the flow and direction of traffic. However, in Toronto it is getting more common to see contra-flow bike lanes, where a bike can travel the other way on a one-way street, especially in residential areas.

(Contra-flow bike lane, image credit:

As Cycle Toronto remind us: “transportation choices do not define us”, most of us switch from pedestrian, driver or cyclist continuously, therefore be mindful other road users, investigate, follow the rules and act with precaution, so everyone can arrive to their destinations safely.


We are the Champions!

The battle was hard fought, nail-biting, and ended in sweet victory. There was partying in the streets as an entire nation celebrated!

Yes, it’s true! Our own Energy & Environment department won a Local Impact Award at UHN! And a basketball team called the Raptors may have made a little history too ;).

Congratulations to all, and see you at the parade (walking, low-carbon style, natch).

For more on the Local Impact Awards, see the UHN News Article:



Going Paperless: The UHN Cancer Cytogenetics Laboratory Experience

The Cancer Cytogenetics Laboratory (CCL) is part of UHN’s Laboratory Medicine Program at Toronto General Hospital. The CCL supports clinical units at UHN, in Ontario and throughout Canada, analyzing chromosomal changes in patients with cancer. Our work helps pathologists and oncologists make the right diagnosis and provide the right treatment options to patients.

The CCL wanted to transform our work environment by better utilizing digital tools, revising our workflow and reduce paper utilization to help the environment. We began the Paperless Lab Project.

We identified that the paper in the CCL fell in to two categories: paper we created and paper we received. “Created paper” in the lab included worksheets, communications logs, images and analysis sheets that we were printing, putting in folders and storing in file cabinets. We also thought about the “paper we receive” (we see this as in part our responsibility as well) as we request test requisitions, pathology reports and send faxed reports to external institutions.

Phase 1 of our Paperless lab project has targeted “the paper we create” by completely changing our work process, reducing the number of pages we create from an average of 10 pages per case (range 1-25 pages, ~50,000 pages/year) to an average of 1 page (range 1-3, ~5000 pages/year). To accomplish this paper reduction, we exploited functionality within our lab software (CoPath and Metasystems) and used shared network drives. This allowed us to stop printing much of the pre-analytic and analytic paperwork and view it online. We have largely completed and implemented Phase 1!

Phase 2, which will be a longer term project and rely on some external resources, is to look at other facets of our process to try to reduce the paper we receive. For example, by implementing an e-requisition, allowing institutions to send us pathology reports via secure e-mail or e-fax and send reports via e-Health Ontario.

While we won’t be able to go fully paperless for the time being, we have shown how some careful planning and use of existing tools can reduce paper use by 85%. By the end of phase 2 we estimate an approximate savings of 6.5 trees worth of paper EVERY YEAR!

Thanks to all the members of the CCL for your effort in implementing this project!
Yana Ahuzhen, Ana Baptista, Karim Bhaloo, Shawn Brennan (Charge), Erica Dafoe, Ko Gyi, Kate Harris, Cherry Have, Sandra Johnson (Sr), Magda Waszul (Sr), Layali Odeh, Connie Qi, Sejal Patel, Felix Valentino, Leena Patel, Yan Hai, Dr. Adam Smith (Dir), Dr. Barbara Morash, Dr. Peter Sabatini, Shabnam Salehi-Rad.