Seeing health care through green coloured glasses

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Unlike most other hospital administrators, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH’s) Director of Support Services, Moe White, is looking forward to another year of cuts, reductions and eliminations – of CAMH’s environmental footprint, that is. Over the past few years, White and his colleagues in CAMH’s Support Services group have made a continuous series of improvements in the hospital’s environmental performance through their “Green CAMH” campaign, changes which have also saved the hospital money and enhanced its reputation.

These improvements span CAMH’s operations. Recently, the hospital was recognized by Enbridge Energy Services for reducing its annual consumption of natural gas by more than five per cent (or 130,000 cubic meters) in 2007 alone. This reduction was achieved while the demands on, and utilization of, CAMH’s space increased. Similarly, despite the continuing addition of new laboratory space and computer server rooms that require significant cooling, CAMH consumes no more electricity than it did in 2003.

CAMH Housekeeping Manager Peter Ritchie has long been a practitioner of green health care. Under his stewardship, his department eliminated the use of pesticides in the maintenance of CAMH’s 27-acre Queen Street site long before the recent pesticide ban came into effect. Similarly, 95 per cent of the cleaning products used by Ritchie’s staff are considered “green.” The results of these changes can be found in the wastewater that leaves the site. CAMH achieved a 92 per cent reduction in sewer discharge pollutants, shooting well past the City of Toronto’s target of 72 per cent.

In 2007, the Recycling Council of Ontario gave CAMH a platinum Waste Minimization Award for exemplary results in minimizing internal waste, especially the diversion of solid waste (which includes organic material) and reducing water and energy use —CAMH was the only health-care provider to receive platinum recognition. CAMH was able to divert 86 per cent of waste from landfill this past year. In 2006 these efforts successfully diverted 305 tonnes of organic waste and saved 13,765 trees through paper recycling. “The effort made by staff and clients at CAMH has been outstanding,” says Ritchie. “We’ve really made an effort to make recycling easy for everyone, and clearly people have responded positively.”

Roofs, in shades of green and white, are one more tool in CAMH’s environmental improvement approach. The newly constructed ambulatory building at CAMH’s Queen Street site features a green roof, which will insulate the building in winter, intercept rainwater before it can runoff into the storm sewers and improve local air quality. At CAMH’s Russell Street site, a recently installed white roof promises to reduce summer cooling requirements by reflecting sunlight back into the sky.

The sum of these improvements is that of the 36 hospitals participating in Ontario’s Greening Health initiative, CAMH’s Queen Street site was the 2007 leader in reducing energy consumptions costs per square foot. “CAMH staff are a very environmentally conscientious and committed group,” says Paul Soares, Manager Plant Operations and Maintenance, adding that he looks forward to working with staff across the organization to identify further opportunities for energy savings and other environmental improvements.