Can We Talk?

Can We Talk?

On this sweltering September day, with Florence and Mangkhut lashing their paths of destruction, I can’t help but think about the hot and steamy elephant in the room … climate change. The scary thing we all talked about “in the future” is here, clearly. There are so many ways I could do something about it, but sometimes I don’t know where to start.

I am not alone, and as luck would have it, neither are you.

We are incredibly psyched and proud to bring Carbon Conversations TO to UHN!


What’s it all about? Taking Climate Action this Fall

If you feel overwhelmed, stressed and unable to take action when you think about climate change, Carbon Conversations TO gets it. They are here to help.

We have asked Carbon Conversations TO to host a weekly series of 2 hour conversations, 6 sessions in total. This will give us the tools, support and motivation so we can take action in our own way. Even better, they’ll do two taster sessions so we can sample it before committing to 6 weeks.

Get a taste of what we’re all about. Join our interactive information session.

Pick either date and time that works for you…

  1. Thurs, Sep 20: 5:30 – 7:00 pm, Toronto General Hospital, Room 1NU168
  2. Thurs, Sep 27: 6:00 – 7:30 pm, Toronto General Hospital, Room 1NU168


Interested in joining the Fall series? (I know I am). The sessions will run Thursday evenings. We are ironing out a few details, but likely from 6:00 pm to 8:00 pm on October 11, 18, 25 and November 1, 8, 15. Though the taster sessions are free, the 6-week program costs $60. The small fee of $10/session will not only cover costs, it helps ensure people attend :).

Are you ready to join us for 6 weeks? Simply complete this brief application form.


Can’t wait to chat with you soon!

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Questions? Reach out to the Carbon Conversations TO team.


(Hospital) Food For Thought

This past Monday I had the pleasure of participating in “Food on the Public Plate: Lessons from Canada, US and Denmark”, an event put on by Nourish and hosted by the MaRS Solutions Lab.

It was a chance to share the work UHN’s Energy & Environment Team has done looking into local food at UHN, assessing hospital readiness for climate change’s impact on food, as well as some of the existing and planned gardens we have.

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Finding that Sweet Spot

Hippo-Brindabella-web620-Victoria Zoo

We saved 2 tonnes of ice packs from landfill, the equivalent of one hippopotamus.  image credit: Zoos Victoria

When 8 million tonnes of plastic is entering the ocean each year and 27 soccer fields worth of the world’s forests is being lost every minute, it may seem like being “sustainable” is far from reach. While it may be true that human activities are threatening the world as we know it, its not true that we aren’t doing anything about it.

Around the world, countries are developing solutions to cope with these non-linear issues. I would like to highlight in this blog post one of the efforts made during my short time here at the UHN to combine the economic, social and environmental aspects of sustainability –to try and find that sweet spot.

Well, I guess I should start by introducing myself and what I do here. My name is Rachel (a third year UWaterloo Biology student) and I am the current sustainability co-op student. Aside from the shut the sash program, which has continued to be an excellent energy (and cost) saving program, I have worked on the ice pack recycling program. Every week our research labs at UHN receive hundreds of frozen ice packs in order to keep perishables at their required temperatures. Most of these end up in landfill waste, or worse … biohazard bins! That literally means burning ice. A much better solution is to send them back to the vendor so they can be reused.

rachel-Accepted Ice pack signage

The thing is, new ice packs are cheap, and recycling ice packs takes effort and coordination (which means cost). This is an example of when companies have to look beyond just the economic benefit of sustainability. Sometimes the main driver is social responsibility … companies must be responsible for the waste they create, as that has a major effect on the environment. During my term, there have been many ups and downs with this program. In the end, after ironing out all the wrinkles, we have a fairly stable take back program with New England Biolabs (NEB), Cedarlane, and FroggaBio.

Below is a graph of all the ice packs sent back to date (excluding the NEB ones since they have an even more robust program that takes back all of the packaging including ice packs). From January to mid August, over two tonnes of ice packs were returned to vendors and diverted from landfill!


We saved over 2 tonnes of ice packs from landfill – the equivalent of 1 Hippopotamus!

This program is an excellent case of how when someone is willing to push for change and to find that sweet spot, companies can care for all three aspects of sustainability and great things can happen.



BAS Schedule Control: Simple but Best


Almost all buildings, in particular hospitals, have a Building Automation System (BAS). It’s is like the brain of a building. BAS controls most HVAC devices, such as pumps, fans, boilers and chillers. It is an interconnected, centralized system of both hardware and software, like a central nervous system. BAS provides lots of benefits, including the ability to control your building from anywhere and improved energy management. It automates all your heating, cooling and air flow needs with minimum interference.


Quite a lot operators, supervisors and facility managers leave the fans and pumps running continuously. This might seem like a good idea  … the system works all the time and users would not complain any more. But this is not a good practice as the constant use will wear out motors, belts and pumps before their time. Maintenance cost will rise and the utility bill will rise even higher.

Like people, building systems need a break. The best way is to check how people use a building, and see if we can schedule control changes for the area. If an area is only used some of the time, say during business hours, we know we can power down HVAC units after hours.

We have to make sure the unit could be turned on when needed. For example, if the air handling unit is set to unoccupied mode, it does not supply any conditioned air to the space, but it will restart when the space temperature drops below the unoccupied heating setpoint or unoccupied cooling setpoint. Only when there is a good backup plan can users feel comfortable and support these energy-saving scheduling initiatives.

With schedule control, devices will run for less time. Usually we can turn it off over the weekend. Even if we need to run the unit 12 hours a day, from 7am to 7pm, we could still save 65% on the electricity of the motor. The savings grow when we factor in gas for heating or electricity for cooling.

Below is a simple trend chart for a unit.

As the unit was running continuously before, the electricity consumption was 170,792KWh annually.


After we implemented a weekday schedule, the power consumption dropped to 60,830 KWh. The users did not feel any difference.


Schedule control on an HVAC device is a straightforward and most efficient way to save energy. It could also extend lifetime of the equipment itself. That’s saving 2 ways … a real no-brainer.



Can U Dig it?

In the lush and earthy corners of UHN, we find some spectacular gardens.

Let’s start in the west with GROW at Bickle Centre, aka, Garden Rehab on Wheels, or Garden of Eatin’. Thanks so much to Amanda Beales for leading this team through it’s 3rd fantastic season. Each year, it expands and improves.


Staff Salad Potluck 2018

This season, the team built a second in-ground patch for plants too big for the boxes. They grew a watermelon  … a huge hit with the patient garden group … and are growing some pumpkins (carving contest tba)! A patient’s family member walked by all the burgeoning veggies the other day and commented “this is better than Longos”.

Patients at Bickle Centre tend to the garden as part of their therapy. According to one patient, “I love being part of the garden group. I get to get outside, see plants, and taste some fresh vegetables…. What more could I want?”. Another noted honestly that “It helps fight the boredom” (I hear you). One +80 year old patient remarked with deep surprise:

“I never knew that’s how that grew!”.



This year, the GROW team decided to get creative and tried growing a cucamelon. No, I’ve never heard of that either, but apparently it’s the size of a grape, looks like a watermelon, and tastes like a cucumber!!

We’ll travel east to get the The UHN Real Food Garden, right near Toronto Western Hospital. Here, Sophia, Jim, Geremy, Rachel and Elise have been sowing and growing as a mini but mighty team. Jim reported that after he cut through the jungle of weeds, “there are some nice tomatoes and basil plants under there … for a nice sandwich on Portuguese buns for one of the Dundas St. bakeries.”garden-1

Now we’ll travel northeast to get to Lyndhurst, where they have had a raised-bed garden for many years. Their focus in more on flowers and herbs over food, but these gorgeous marigolds look good enough to eat! Note the special long-handled tools perfect for using from a wheelchair!garden-lyndhurst 2018

Thanks Nicole Leung, recreation therapist for bringing her patients outside for the best kind of therapy (IMHO) and for sending these beautiful and lucious photos from Lyndhurst…

If this is your jam (or jelly), you may be interested in 2 events by our friends at NOURISH, both on Monday September 10th:

  1. Connecting Food & Health Care: Lessons From Canada, US & Denmark: 12 – 1:30 pm, LKSKI-SMH, 209 Victoria St. room 211
  2. Food on the Public Plate: Lessons from Canada, US & Denmark: 4:30-6:30 pm, MaRS 101 College St. room CR2



It’s easy and free registration (and they had me at “light refreshments will be served”).

For more about Gardens at UHN, see




A Free Steam Room Is Gone From TWH, But No Regrets

We had a secret steam room at Toronto Western Hospital.  If you knew where it was you could drop by and enjoy it, free of charge.  This place was hidden somewhere in the underground tunnel.  The heat was free from our high pressure steam and condensate pipes between the boiler plant and the hospital.  The temperature in this area was over 40°C (104°F) year around.  Most of the pipes were insulated, however,  there were still many exposed hot surfaces,  such as pipe hangers, anchors, supports, valves, condensate pumps, etc.  Due to the temperature difference between the high pressure steam (170°C or 338°F) and space, the heat loss was nonstop.

Steam RoomFigure 1: A secret steam room hidden at TWH.

Well, every cloud has a silver lining and this is how we got a free steam room.  This hot spot is hard not to notice.  The solution in the past was to remove the heat without touching the heat source.  People designed a ventilation system to draw fresh air from outside through 2 louvres and fresh air shaft,  then exhaust the hot air.

Later, when the New East Wing was constructed, the intake louvres and shaft were buried since they were right under the proposed building, so this place got hot quickly for almost 15 years.  Because of complaints, facilities management team installed 2 local recirculation fans, but they didn’t work well.  Without incoming fresh air, the heat had nowhere to go.

before after 1Figure 2: Infrared photo of same pipe hanger before and after removable jacket was installed.

With the help of our infrared camera,  we easily identified those hot spots. To fix them, we  added insulation.  Two types of insulation were used for different reasons: 

  • Permanent fibreglass insulation for those pipe racks, anchors, etc. which do not require regular maintenance and service work.
  • Removable jackets for other areas like valves, pumps, hangers and supports. The jackets have durable fibreglass cloth cover with Velcro fasteners and they can be removed and reinstalled quickly and easily for equipment service. 

before after 2Figure 3: Infrared photo of same pipe rack before and after permanent insulation was installed.

Even in the middle of the installation, people started to notice the temperature difference.  Once the job was done, the space temperature went back to normal and we don’t even need those 2 local recirculation fans any more.

With this project, we installed insulation at about 160 spots. Some of them are only as big as a CD (for those that remember what CDs are).  We will save about $5,700 of natural gas annually, which is equivalent of 38 metric tons of CO2 emission, or 8.3 cars removed from streets. 

Looking at the Past and Future: A Student’s Present to You

Hello everyone! My name is Kyle and I am a fourth year student at UofT, studying Environmental Health, Environmental Ethics, and Bioethics. Now that my time working as a student intern with the Energy and Environment team is coming to a close, I thought I’d share some of the things I’ve learned over the past few months, as well as provide suggestions for making the most out of the final weeks of summer.

Looking at the past:Image result for recycling coffee pods
Putting Garbage in the Right Place: During my internship, I worked on different projects, such as the new employee orientation pages for the energy and environment team. This helped me brush up on what exactly goes into green bins, blue bins, and garbage bins. Now on the outside this may seem fairly simple, but there can be times when we just aren’t completely sure if something can be recycled or thrown in the garbage. For instance, while coffee pods may appear to be recyclable if cleaned properly, the City of Toronto considers them to be garbage since not enough people properly clean the pods before recycling (More here). So if you want to be a coffee eco-hero and make a difference, try using compostable coffee pods, or reusable coffee pods. It’s a little thing that can make a big difference in the long run.

Products and Their Safety: I also worked on completing the pollution prevention plan. Essentially, I looked at the chemical components of products that departments would use, and determined if any of the components of the products were potentially hazardous by looking at five different policies. These polices cover the national level, provincial level, municipal level, polices at UHN, and even a policy from California (Proposition 65). It was a tedious (but no where near as tedious as writing a 20 page report for school) but rewarding job that could be related to personal life. We use various products every day for various things, but we don’t always check to see if it is truly safe or environmentally friendly (at least it’s not something I typically lose sleep over). So while you may not want to look over five different policies to determine if your general purpose cleaner is safe, it may be worth looking over at least one or two, just make sure you’re not using anything that could be hazardous. It’s better to be safe than sorry!

Looking into the future:
With only one more month of summer left, I thought it would be helpful to suggest a few things we all can do to enjoy the final weeks of summer and keep the environment in mind.

Get out and enjoy Toronto! 
In such a busy city, there’s no shortage of things that you can do. Allan Gardens Conservatory is a wonderful spot to spend with family and friends when the weather is too hot or too rainy (and lately we’ve had a lot of those days). You’ll get to see plant life that you may have never seen before, which may just inspire you to get a plant for yourself. For the days with perfect weather, Toronto has many parks, such as High Park, to enjoy a nice relaxing picnic. There’s nothing like a little green and sunlight to brighten up your day!

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Plant life at Allan Gardens Conservatory


UHN also has many gardens that we all can take advantage of before the cold weather comes. There’s a beautiful rooftop garden at TRI – University Centre, a wheelchair accessible garden at TRI – Bickle Centre, and the UHN Real Food Garden. (Read more here!)

Bike or walk when you can! 
The good weather will only stick around for so long before we (and by we I definitely mean me) start complaining about the cold temperatures and snow. I for one enjoy not having to wear a winter jacket wherever I go. There’s so much to see and enjoy in a big city like Toronto, so walking and biking around Toronto will not only allow you to see what Toronto has to offer, but will also provide you with some free exercise. It’s a win win situation! (Want to see more about biking? Read more here! Read even more here!)

Toronto, Bike, Flatiron, Street, Snow, Winter, Sky

And with that, my time with the Energy and Environment team has come to an end. It’s been a fantastic experience the last few months, and I’m grateful I got the opportunity to work with such a wonderful group of people!