Mobilizing a green-friendly organization through initiatives large and small

For The Hospital for Sick Children (SickKids), no project, initiative or idea is too big or too small when it comes to sustainability.

Recognizing its role in contributing to a low-carbon society and ensuring future generations can enjoy a healthy planet, “mobilizing a green-friendly organization” is ingrained into the SickKids 2025 strategic plan.

How does SickKids continuously work to improve its standing as a socially and environmentally responsible organization? By getting everybody involved and thinking about sustainability every day.


“SickKids has completed a number of impressive environmental initiatives in recent years, including multiple Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certifications for our Peter Gilgan Centre for Research and Learning facility, mass LED lighting retrofits, and we have continued to donate unused medical supplies to clinics around the world,” says Laurie Harrison, Vice-President, Finance and Chief Financial Officer, SickKids. “But equally impressive are the grassroots efforts of our staff and their determination to make a difference any way they can.”

SickKids has an in-house “Green Team,” made up of more than 40 dedicated staff members from the hospital and Research Institute, who come up with ways to motivate and engage their SickKids colleagues to be green-friendly. One of their crowning achievements is a series of waste campaigns to raise awareness among staff on proper waste disposal and reduce the amount of waste generated. These multi-week campaigns, which include intranet articles with green facts and recycling tips, focused on one environmentally sensitive item at a time. Here they are so far:

  • Reusable mug promotion – the benefits of bringing your own mug on your coffee break (and how to properly dispose of coffee cups if you don’t bring your own)
  • Plastic bottles vs. reusable bottles – the benefits of drinking water from your own reusable bottle and avoiding plastic
  • Smart about straws – the benefits of avoiding the use of straws (if you can) and encouraging the use of paper straws; more than 200 staff members pledged to never use plastic straws again.

“As the campaigns evolved, the team introduced staff pledges and prizes, and used professionally designed graphics to illustrate best practices,” says Elisabeth Perlikowski, Program Manager, Environmental Sustainability, SickKids. “The overall aim was to help everyone understand that, by each of us doing a little, our organization can accomplish so much together.”

Donna Rousell, Registered Nurse, pledged to buy reusable straws for her entire family during a staff educational campaign to be “smart about straws” at SickKids. Here she is with her kids and their reusable metal straws, plus a reusable lunch kit she was awarded as a prize.

What is particularly heartening is the positive and far-reaching impact these campaigns have had on staff and SickKids. For instance, the SickKids Centre for Global Child Health and the Department of Clinical Dietetics started their own “pro-mug” campaigns to discourage use of disposable cups among their colleagues; the Developmental & Stem Cell Biology, Molecular Medicine and Child Health Evaluative Sciences programs at SickKids Research Institute, which routinely host events with large groups (pre-COVID-19), stopped allowing disposable items for refreshments into their meetings; the use of drinking straws in the SickKids cafeteria plunged 57 per cent since adopting paper straws and a “request-only” approach for straws to decrease waste.

Further, in preparation for the “smart straw” campaign, Nutrition Services stopped distributing a package containing a napkin, straw and multiple utensils automatically with each meal. Instead, the utensils match the meal, which means a serving of soup only comes with a napkin and spoon – no need for a knife and fork too (although COVID-related supply chain issues can sometimes be a challenge).

“This is a significant change from a practice that dates back several decades, and with over 100,000 meals served every year, it reduces our environmental footprint, one meal at a time,” says Susan Dello, Senior Manager, Nutrition Services, adding that a previous initiative by Nutrition Services reduced food waste up to 25 per cent by simply allowing patients to make their own food choices.

This is not to say that the larger sustainability initiatives have slowed down – not by any measure. The following remain in full swing:

  • Ongoing identification and implementation of energy improvements, optimizing the building subsystems performance as well as how they function together
  • Closing of laboratory fume hoods during off-hours
  • Enhanced preventive maintenance to fix water leaks
  • Procuring environmentally sound Forest Stewardship Council certified paper
  • Increasing on-site bike spaces and resources for staff
  • Reusing office supplies and furniture
  • Constructing a new Patient Support Centre (an education, training and administrative tower) that is part of SickKids Project Horizon with sustainability in mind and targeting LEED certification

Mobilizing a green-friendly organization means that sustainability initiatives, large and small, go hand-in-hand at SickKids. Indeed, the next waste campaign is already in the works.

“The waste campaigns we’ve completed also result in feedback from staff, who send us ideas about recycling, reducing, and diverting waste,” says Perlikowski. “Our next waste campaign is scheduled to occur during ‘plastic-free July’ and we’re hopeful it will coincide with our cafeteria switching to compostable take-out containers and utensils.”