Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Where Do You Get Your Drinking Water?

Posted on February 4th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Seems like a question begging for an easy answer: where do you get your drinking water? In this case, frame your answer with “at the Med Center”. There are lots of options, including the bathroom or kitchen sink, drinking fountain, water cooler (bottled water), or small bottles that you either bring from home or purchase here.

Many people dislike the taste of the water that comes from a tap. While you can be confident that this water is safe to drink, let us not confuse “potable” with “palatable”.  I can tell you that the tap water where I live is a bit off-putting (but the hose was a fine source when we were kids!).  The same goes for drinking fountains, which use tap water for a source. Do ours have filters inside? Perhaps, I don’t know. If they do, are the filters serviced? No idea, but I’ll ask Charles Witcher, Manager of Plant Operations and Maintenance. OK, it turns out that some fountains have filters, others don’t, and filter maintenance is somewhat expensive.

What is interesting to me is where patient drinking water tends to be obtained in the inpatient areas. Several weeks ago, when we had the water system incident that disrupted water service in the Main Hospital, I participated in the response. I was surprised to learn that water for patients is often obtained from the ice machines, as each machine has a filter in it, helping to make the water taste better.

How many of you get those pints of bottled water from vending machines or bring them in from home? Aren’t they convenient, particularly if you’re not fond of tap water?  Have you considered the environmental cost of this convenience? Among others, the Pacific Institute of Oakland, CA, has researched this, and suggests that, in 2006:

1. Producing the bottles for American consumption required the equivalent of more than 17 million barrels of oil, not including the energy for transportation.

2. Bottling water produced more than 2.5 million tons of carbon dioxide.

3. It took 3 liters of water to produce 1 liter of bottled water

Thought-provoking, isn’t it? And there’s more. Check out the Pacific Institute fact sheet here.

And what did that bottle of water cost you? Let’s just say it’s a buck at the vending machine, and a quarter if you buy a 24-pack at the Big Box Store (BBS). The cost of water here at the Med Center is $0.0075 per gallon. Let’s see, 8 pints in a gallon…we’re at 0.09¢ (yes, about a 1/10th of a penny) per bottle, or roughly 275-16 oz. bottles for a quarter. The pint bottle of water from the BBS costs over 250 times more than tap water, and that doesn’t even take into account the environmental costs suggested by the Pacific Institute. And the vending machine bottle of water? Oh, my…almost 1,100 times the cost of tap water. The same tap water which, by the way, costs you nothing at work.

I looked up the cost of the 5-gallon jugs of water that get delivered to your home or office, and the per-gallon cost where I live is about $1.70, still 85 times the cost of that at the tap. I can look through the glass front door of the office next to ours and see at least six of these 5-gallon bottles are lined up in the reception area: I see opportunity, as I’ll explain.

The tide is starting, ever slowly, to turn against bottled water. A city in Vermont recently banned the sale of bottled water in less than one gallon sizes. It’ll be interesting to see how that goes. There are at least a couple of dozen colleges and universities in the US that have banned the sale of bottled water. One gets the sense that there is finally some pushback against bottled water.

What would you think about having access to a good, tasty alternative to bottled water here at work?  It makes sense that if you’re going to move away from bottled water (given the cost and the Hydration Stationenvironmental impacts of bottled water use, it’s a good thing to do), then there has to be a readily-available alternative. Most of the colleges mentioned above, and many who have not yet banned bottled water, have moved to hydration stations. These dispense filtered water from a shoulder-level spigot, making it easy to fill your reusable bottles. How many of you have tried to fill a bottle or other vessel from a drinking fountain with low pressure? Not a pretty sight.

Back to the hydration stations: I think we have a great opportunity to bring some in here at the Med Center and put forth a challenge to the bottled water system.  Most hydration stations are made to take the place of drinking fountains, and many feature both a bottle filling station and a drinking fountain, like the unit seen here (from one of many manufacturers of hydration stations).  I’ve seen units with a tally counter at the top, clicking over every 16 ounces dispensed to let you know the number of bottles of water for which purchase has been avoided.

While they have been well-received at colleges (and check them out the next time you’re at SFO), I would not expect hydration stations to replace bottled water sales at all locations at the Med Center. It’d be unreasonable to eliminate the option of a bottled water purchase for a visitor at the Main Hospital. However, I’d really like to see Hydration Stations take root in non-patient care areas. There’s a beat up drinking fountain outside of the EH&S office, and many 5-gallon bottled water users in the building. I bet we could swap out the drinking fountain for the hydration station, pay for that thing in two years, and provide some good environmental impact mitigation in the process.What do you think, FSSB? Shouldn’t we be in the lead here? Last thing we want is some other location, like Broadway or Medical Education to beat us out. I’m ready to get a trial started. It’s like a Race to the Top. Who’s going to have the first hydration station at UCDHS? Who wants to save money while protecting the environment? Standby…

Do something Green today!

The Sustainability Imperative

Posted on January 22nd, 2013 in Uncategorized | 50 Comments »

Have you ever considered what it takes, in labor and resources, to give us the goods that we take for granted?  Are some items so resource and labor intensive that they take away from other things, perhaps essential, presenting us with an “either/or” situation?  Are we using so many resources now that our kids and grandkids will be hard pressed to have the same things that we enjoy?  Is that what we want, is it how we want to be remembered?  Perhaps it’s better to operate with sustainability in mind.

It’s instructive to Google (“Google” is a verb now, isn’t it?) “sustainability”, to read the various takes on the term and get a general idea of what it means.  In particular, what does it mean to you?  To some, sustainability is synonymous with recycling, for example; “I recycle, therefore I am sustainable”.  Well, it’s a place to start.  For others, part of being sustainable is buying organic foods, hence avoiding the use of petrochemical fertilizers and their impact on the environment.  Still others try to make sure that their activities are mindful of the environmental, avoiding air and water pollution.  Additionally, there are folks out there who feel that the concept of sustainability is a nefarious United Nations plot to erode our freedoms (Google “Agenda 21” for some fun reading).

Broadly put, “sustainability” is making sure we leave a usable Earth for our descendents.  One of the most widely quoted definitions, from the Brundtland Commission of the United Nations, reads as follows: “Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” To get our arms around this concept, let’s consider some of the things that we take for granted, and whether our current practices might jeopardize the ability of future generations to access these same things.

How about a piece of printer paper?  Have you ever thought about what goes into the production of that sheet of paper?  First, cut down some trees; there are other source materials, but let’s stick with trees.  Transport them to the mill, grind them up, apply chemicals in the Kraft process (converting wood into pulp/fibers), and apply more chemicals for the bleaching process.  Now the pulp is ready to be formed into sheets and dried, which takes a lot of processing and energy.  The paper ends up in large rolls, and leaves the paper mill to travel to a converter, where the paper is cut to size and packaged.  After some storage and transportation, then local handling, the sheet of paper is in your printer, ready for use.  It’s quite a process to go from tree to printer, involving a number of potential environmental impacts from the chemicals, and one can just imagine the amount of energy used.  It’s nice to know that it takes fewer chemicals and less power to convert used paper to new paper with “post consumer content”.  You are recycling waste paper, aren’t you?

Speaking of energy, let’s consider the lights in your work area.  All lights take some energy, with newer types of lamps using much less than older styles (but sometimes at higher cost).  Where does that energy come from?  At the Medical Center, it comes from our Central Energy Plant, where a jet engine, of the same type used in the old Lockheed L-1011, provides the motive power to turn a very large generator to make electricity.  The electricity travels through various wires, breakers, and transformers before it ends up at the switch that controls your lights.  Flip the switch to turn the lights on and the electricity travels through a few more wires to the ballast, then on to the fluorescent tube, where it excites mercury vapor (all fluorescent lamp have a tad of mercury), producing UV light which causes phosphors to fluoresce, providing visible light.  Also, way before you get this light, someone puts the complex wheels in motion to make natural gas available to operate the gas turbine in the Central Plant.

It’s interesting to think about the complexities that provide even the most common things in our lives.  Some people prefer to compartmentalize these realities in an “out-of-sight/out-of mind” manner, in the same way that they like to eat meat but don’t want to know how it got into the package at the market.  If you take a moment to consider the processes required to make paper or produce electricity, and acknowledge that all require a number of finite resources, you’ll see that a “business as usual” approach to life could make it harder for your grandkids to have paper to write on or light by which to see.

The Sustainability Imperative implores us to consider those things that make up our early 21st century lives, and asks us to consider what it will take to make these attributes available later in this century and beyond.  The earth’s population is growing, our resources are in decline, and technology won’t always be able to rescue us.  No one will conserve in your stead; it is up to each of us to take action.

When your unit’s Green Advocate reminds you to recycle, or turn off your task lights when you leave, remember the complex processes that bring form and function to our lives. It’s not just a piece of paper, it’s part of a process comprised of numerous inputs.  Leaving the lights on further burdens our dwindling resources.  Add a “sustainability” context to your decisionmaking.  Doing the right thing isn’t always the easy thing, but it’s always the best thing.

Do something GREEN today!



Portal to Sustainability

Posted on January 11th, 2013 in Uncategorized | 1 Comment »

I’d imagine that when someone is thinking of an intro for a first blog, or a new website, they probably don’t get out the thesaurus.  Well, I did, as I wanted a decent synonym for “Welcome”.  If you’ve played with the InterWeb for as long as I have, you might get tired of being greeted with “Welcome to the Website for Fred’s Auto Dismantling and Bikram Yoga”.  Being greeted is fine, but “welcome” seems so…worn out.

Upon review, I found that “Welcome” is used so extensively simply because there seems to be no good substitute, no synonym that says “Welcome” as well as welcome does.  It would appear that, in introducing you to my sustainability blog and the new sustainability website, I will be using that term.

So, Welcome to “Greening Our Health System”, the new blog exploring sustainability practices and efforts at the UC Davis Health System.  This opening salvo to the blogosphere also serves as the introduction to the new and shiny UCDHS Sustainability website, which can be found here.

I hope that the blog and website will serve a number of purposes in advancing sustainable practices at DHS.  The development and launch of the website fulfills a Phase I objective of Strategic Plan Strategy 7.5.  The blog and website both fulfill aspects of Strategy 2.4 regarding communicating our sustainability program.  That takes care of the official stuff.  Now it’s all about me…and you.

In welcoming you to this blog, I want you to know that I plan to blog frequently; if Dr. Meyers can blog a lot, and he does, then so can I.  I hope the topics presented on the blog make you think about sustainability, and consider how it fits into your daily activities, both at work and at home.  I invite you to comment on the blog, ask questions, provide your perspective, suggest topics, give me grief as necessary and warranted, and just participate in the process.  And if you pine for more frequent updates to our sustainability news, as well as that of others, Like our Facebook page.

In welcoming you to the website, which, by the way, will not have a big “Welcome” banner for the header, I want you to know that you’ll be able to find answers to your sustainability questions on the site.  How you can Green your work environment.  How to recycle stuff.  How to save energy.  How to access alternative transportation.  Where to get your questions answered ( How the Health System as a whole is using sustainable practices. And how to take the (not so) big leap onto the Green Advocate bus.

Go ahead, type “sustainability” into your browser’s address field, hit “enter”, and start to explore.  Put this blog into your RSS feed, or request e-mail updates, so you’ll see the new material when it’s published.  And do let me know what you think.

Do something Green today!