Green Team makes health care more sustainable

By Selma Al-Samarrai

Canada’s health care system is responsible for 4.6 per cent of the country’s pollutant emissions, both directly from healthcare facilities and vehicles, and indirectly through buying emission-intensive goods and services.

This was one of the factors that compelled a group of staff and physicians at Unity Health Toronto’s St. Michael’s Academic Family Health Team (FHT) to create a Green Team. Their goal was to make their practice more environmentally friendly. This started as a local initiative in the Sumac Creek Health Centre clinic about a year and a half ago, and is now expanding into the remaining FHT clinics.


Their first project focused on implementing a new recycling process. Within a few months, the Green Team had ordered recycling bins, placed them in high-traffic areas, and confirmed the pick-up process with Environmental Services staff.

“With the global movement around environmental sustainability, there was an increased awareness of our impact within the FHT clinics, and a lot of our team members were already really engaged on this topic,” said Sarah Nestico, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Sumac clinic.

A recent and very impactful sustainability change was the elimination of exam table paper in patient rooms in two family health clinics. This decision was made easier by the pandemic because after every patient visit, all furniture including the patient bed had to be completely wiped down, which eliminated the need for the exam paper.

Another change the Green Team successfully implemented was clarifying when to use the biohazard waste bins, which collect heavily soiled items that then need to be incinerated. They clearly distinguished what goes into the biohazard waste bins, and this helped significantly reduce what staff put in them.

The Green Team also organized education seminars on how to implement certain sustainability practices, specifically at the Sumac clinic.

“A big priority for the Green Team was just providing information,” said Julia Lee, Interim Patient and Community Engagement Specialist. “Often, unsustainable practice comes from misinformation, so education becomes a key tool in creating change.”

The education covers a wide range of sustainability practices, including behavioural changes such as encouraging staff to bring in reusable containers, utensils and cups, and general sustainability practices such as turning off computers and office lights at the end of the day and minimizing printing.

“I think part of the reason the Green Team initiatives have been so successful is because there was a very intentional interprofessional lens on it that included physicians, nurses, clinical and administrative staff,” Lee said. “There were many different processes and angles that were all taken into consideration. At the end of the day, we’re all interested in being more sustainable to protect our environment.”

Selma Al-Samarrai is a communications adviser at Unity Health Toronto