Category Archives: Quotes

Why hospitals are making us sick

I had the pleasure of seeing Robin Guenther, author of Sustainable Healthcare Architecture, speak at Clean Med 2015.

Here is an earlier version of her excellent keynote at TEDMED 2014.

It’s eye opening to listen to Robin’s thoughts on how the US has created a “sick care system” that has been caught in an industrial paradigm for the last 70 years:

“The Texas Medical Center is the largest in the world… With 106,000 employees at 54 institutions, co-located on 1.5 square miles. This is a 20th century industrial system. Like agriculture, chemicals, or fossil fuel energy. And like those systems it creates waste, some dismal work environments, and a load of externalized impacts. The inconvenient truth for all of us, is that it [healthcare] contributes to the problem it is there to solve.”

Robin talks about the environmental and health impacts:

“Healthcare is energy intensive…While we seek to perfect our antiseptic care environments, we dump pharmaceuticals in our water, disposable products in our landfills and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. These all contribute to environmental degradation. And they are all preventable.”

She focuses on changing mindsets to build hospitals that make us healthy:

“The US healthcare system is beginning to wake up. To connect healing the earth and healing people. To accepting and acting on the core notion that you can’t have healthy people on a sick planet.”

“So how do we transform this 20th century model? And move from a system that delivers health care, to one that creates actual health.

“Restorative design is about moving from so-called solutions that degrade health and the environment to true solutions that do no harm and heal some of the harm we have already done. It’s about finding solutions that stop making us sick.”

“Right now the environmental and health costs of our healthcare system are not transparent.”

“Whether you are outside or inside of a restorative hospital, it is always healing.

“It is not money that stops us, it is mindset. The reason we don’t do these things…it’s because sometimes it’s difficult to see the harm, and, sometimes, it’s more comfortable to design the way we always have.”

So much of what she says resonates with the environmental footprint of health care in Canada, and around the world. Of all buildings that have environmental and health costs, it is ironic that this is the very place we go to when we are sick.

Emotions and Sustainability

Lately, I have been hearing a lot about the importance of working with emotions in sustainability.

In particular, that sustainable development depends on one’s emotional capacity to deal with the impacts of climate change and other difficult socio-cultural and environmental disasters. In other words, we need a sort of emotional resilience to be able to stay positive, pro-active and deal with climate change.

It has made me reflect on some of the typical reactions we have when we hear about the uncomfortable realities associated with climate change and other impacts:

  • ignorance – the facts are wrong!
  • depression/negativity – what can i do if it is already too late?
  • apathy – doesn’t affect me!
  • fear – head in the sand…another type of ignorance

These are reactions that make us freeze, and not do anything; continue as always and hope the issue will go away.

So what will help us be pro-active and take responsibility for our own actions?

Could it be emotions or being emotional? In other words, recognizing our emotions, accepting that we are emotional beings, expressing our emotions and working through them and supporting others to do the same.

Based on my previous experiences in sustainability, I do believe that there is some truth to this theory. There is a very personal piece of the sustainability puzzle that is related to a person’s beliefs, culture, and values. These some how shape our experiences: thoughts, feelings, wants…etc.

“Changing is not just changing the things outside of us.” Thich Nhat Hanh

I do think there is something key in the above quote… a need to look inside, in particular, about what is going on for me right now in my life, what do i really feel when i hear about negative impacts, and how does that make me act/react. What is it that motivates us to take action?

The root of the word emotion is to move. So perhaps emotions do have the potential to make us move and act for a more sustainable world.



Quote from the keynote address at the 2013 Carbon Neutral Symposium


“Truly generative thinking about the “how” of climate action requires risk taking, and that itself is a discipline with which we need to be more highly skilled. We need not simply new techniques but also a considered balance of old and new to shock or seduce our ideas into unexpected and suggestive rearrangements – generating new material for our constructive imagination. And we need this because local governments, local businesses, local NGOs and local academia, to say nothing of provincial organizations and the citizens in our communities, are ready and willing – they are ready and willing to implement change, to engage with one another; to expand their knowledge, to navigate the labyrinth of agency, awareness, and association that ultimately leads to action, especially the darker green -never-been-done-before-so-it’s-going-to-be-hard kinds of actions that result in the big leaps forward.”

Rob Abbot, Executive Director, Carbon Neutral Government, Green Communities & Climate Action Outreach
Climate Action Secretariat, Ministry of Environment, Province of British Colombia

*Photo of Graphic Recording in progress by Sam Bradd

at the 2013 Carbon Neutral Symposium:

Values and the Sustainable Organization

En la organización sustentable los valores están siempre presentes, no son relativos a una situación ni cambiantes según la coyuntura, son capital social. Condiciiones constantes que guían los compartamientos, que no operan en función de intereses individuos o situaciones particulares. Valores y creencias que permiten lazos duraderos, que no dependen de la subjetividad individual sino que se construyen en el marco de una red de relaciones humanas en la organización. (Etkin 2007 p.13-4)