Category Archives: Reflections

Reflecting on recycling in hospitals

The Recycling Renewal Program, implemented in hospitals and residential care sites across the Lower Mainland between 2010 and 2016,  is preparing itself for a next phase.

The program is now in place, but sustainment of the program over the long term depends on where we focus efforts to move the program forward. In particular, we want to reduce contamination of the recycling stream and increase education and communications about what can and can’t be recycled. Here are some learnings that are helping us shape future actions:

  • Some clinical customization is necessary: signage and educational materials don’t adequately represent clinical waste items. Also, the discontinuation of soft plastic recycling was disheartening for clinical staff because medical supply packaging makes up the majority of their waste.
  • On a practical level, all waste types need to be consolidated: connect recycling education and communication efforts with garbage and biomedical waste efforts so that staff have all waste info at hand.
  • Increase ownership and accountability for the recycling program at the hospital level: the recycling program is often considered someone else’s responsibility, for instance, housekeeping. Although, housekeeping plays an important role in ensuring the containers are in place and that waste is emptied regularly, it is the generator of the waste (health care staff) and the decision they make when disposing of an item that impacts contamination.
  • Recognize that recycling is not always possible in health care: patient care comes first in many situations: ICU and emergency situations, waste from isolation room patients is all considered garbage or biomedical, and processes that put infection control first.
  • Continue to make recycling a priority: recycling and materials reduction is repeatedly considered the top environmental priority for front line staff. Moreover, we’ve heard that satisfaction with recycling is key for engaging staff further in greening the workplace.
  • Improve key messages: staff respond positively to understanding “why” they can’t recycle certain items. It seems to be the hook that’s needed to educate them what is and isn’t recyclable.

Sharing learning from a group reflective process

8 months into a strategic framework refresh process, my three “collaborators in crime” and I decided to undertake a group reflection on the process.

Background: the aim of the refresh was to take a strategic framework that talked about sustainability without much consideration for the sector in which we worked, to one that better connected healthcare to sustainability, simplified our work for stakeholders, facilitated their engagement in our work, and was up to date in terms of sustainability practice in other sectors.

The group: 4 team mates (including myself) volunteered to take on the strategic framework refresh on behalf of our team. No one asked us to do it, and it certainly wasn’t a part of our job descriptions. But, we all felt it was important for the success of our team and the implementation of sustainability across the organization. We did have the go ahead from our Director.

The purpose of the reflection: we didn’t want to reflect on what we had refreshed in the strategic framework, but rather, on how we had come together and worked to create it. A formal reflection was important because the process had been largely ad hoc and self-driven in the sense that we set our own deadlines and determined the path along the way.

Why reflect on the process? For me personally, I knew that it was time to touch base with my fellow collaborators because I was starting to lose steam and interest, and I thought that some of my colleagues might be in the same boat. I also knew that if we were going to continue to work well together in the future, it was important to touch base and ensure that we addressed anything that wasn’t working. Admittedly, the need to reflect on how we were doing was overdue (this we realized after undertaking the reflection).

How did we undertake the group reflection?

The process was simple and aimed to create a platform where we could listen to each others experiences:

  • What we liked about our process
  • What we would do differently if we had to do it again

We finished off by identifying what we wanted in the process moving forward.

So why do I feel compelled to share this?

The process of group reflection helped me reconnect and see the process through my colleagues eyes and experiences. I was able to gain a new appreciation for the process, as well as, identify some of the key aspects of successful collaboration.

So here are some of these learnings:

What we liked about the collaborative process:

  • strong team approach
  • new understanding of each other’s roles and challenges
  • approach to meetings was fun and informal which allowed us to build personal relationships, rather than just professional ones
  • everyone brought something different to the table (fresh eyes and perspectives) which created stronger outcomes
  • strong sense of optimism for what we can accomplish working together

Key things to do differently moving forward:

  • more clarity and formality on allocation of roles, including how strategy should be included in all members of our teams work (in other words, greater engagement with the broader team).
  • since we were all busy with our regular jobs, spend more time at the end of meetings determining how best to distribute follow up tasks so as not to overload any one member.
  • periodic reflections about our engagement levels and creation of opportunities for re-engagement
  • importance of recognition from the team director for work done voluntarily and formal inclusion of work in job descriptions.

Side note, and to end this post…

As I mentioned above, the reflective process helped me understand some of the key aspects of successful collaboration. Successful in the sense that we worked together effectively to create a great outcome.

In hind site, unlike a lot of the collaborative processes in our organization, the process of refreshing our strategic framework was entirely bottom-up and highly creative (we were given confidence and freedom to get the work done how we best saw fit with in deadlines that we created for ourselves). It wasn’t until I was tired and stressed from feeling that I didn’t have enough time to dedicate to my regular job and this process, which I had volunteered to do, that I started to lose steam. I also started to resent what appeared to be a lack of recognition for our hard work.

So when asked by our Director: would it have been as successful if it was lead by a manager in a more formal structure? My answer: I am not so sure…

Freedom from deadlines and pre-determined actions and outcomes allowed us to explore ideas, get creative with complexity, and come up with great ideas (this doesn’t mean that we didn’t have clear action items after every meeting, just that we didn’t know what exactly the pathway to our outcome was going to be until we moved through it). So then, perhaps letting things happen is also key to success. It reminds me that things are not always linear, but rather fluid, circular and sometimes chaotic. Interesting that we often consider this to be unproductive…. and that’s not necessarily the case.






Qualities for relationship building and collaboration

I have been doing a lot of thinking around relationship building and collaboration. In particular, what qualities make someone a good relationship builder or collaborator. Here are some of my ideas:

  • Humble: ability to put one’s ego aside, receive feedback on their ideas, and hear opinions different to their own.
  • Open minded: ability to ascertain diverse solutions to a problem and avoid quick judgements.
  • Curious: ability to ask questions to find out more about others opinions, interests and contexts. Avoids making assumptions about a situation or other.
  • Good Listener: hears what is being said not what one wants to hear. Asks more questions.
  • Empathetic: ability to put oneself in another’s shoes and understand different perspectives.
  • Perceptive: ability to recognize difference of opinion or understanding about a topic. To recognize when someone feels like they are not being listened to. Or notice when someone has not given their opinion.

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.



La importancia de mirar hacia adentro…The importance of looking inward…

El otro día escucha a Gloria, representante de ORMUSA (Organización de Mujeres Salvadoreñas), dar una presentación acerca de las buenas prácticas de equidad e igualdad de género en el desarrollo local.

The other day I heard Gloria, representative of ORMUSA (Organization of Salvadorian Women), give a presentation about good practice in gender equity and equality in local development.

Me quedé casi muda cuando escuché los logros del grupo, entre ellos, integrar la igualdad de género en las políticas, planes de acción y presupuestos de 10 gobiernos locales en El Salvador.

I was left speechless as I listened to all the achievements of the organization, among them, integrating gender equality into policies, action plans and budgets at 10 local governments in El Salvador.

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Cuando le pregunté a Gloria: ¿Cuál es el primer paso del acercamiento al gobierno local?, su respuesta demostró la necesidad de mirar hacia adentro, antes que cualquier otra cosa.

When I asked Gloria: What is the first step that needs to be taken when approaching a local government about gender issues?, her response showed the importance of looking inwards before anything else.

“El primer paso es realmente reflexionar como mujer, y como persona…Las mujeres necesitan darse cuenta que no es su rol hacerlo todo solos….sino que existe una co-responsabilidad con los hombres.”

“The first step is really reflecting as a woman, as a person…Women need to realize that it is not their role to do it all…that there is a co-responsibility with men.”

Son palabras muy poderosas y muy sabias para una joven. Sirven como recuerdo para mi que el trabajo de desarrollo empieza adentro de cada uno. Requiere honestidad y humildad para reconocer tus propias capacidades y limites, además de aprender de los errores y colaborar con otros. Gracias a Gloria por este importante recuerdo.

To me, these are very powerful and wise words spoken by a young girl and they help me remember that development does start by looking inward on oneself. It requires honesty and humility to recognize one’s own skills and limits, as well as to learn from your errors and collaborate with others. Thank you Gloria for this important reminder.

Reciclaje y premiación: ¿qué tipo de comportamientos queremos incentivar?

El mes pasado, empecé a trabajar en un proyecto de reciclaje con varias comunidades en las provincias de Santa Elena y Manabí. Mi primera actividad en el proyecto, que ya tiene 2 años, fue asistir a la premiación de la comunidad ganadora para la última etapa. Desde el principio del proyecto, se ha motivado el reciclaje otorgando un premio para la comunidad que recicla la mayor cantidad de desechos. Es una práctica que ha ayudado a movilizar a las comunidades que anteriormente no reciclaron. Después de dos años y 3 premiaciones, las comunidades están reciclando más que nunca. Sin embargo, también es una práctica que atrae potenciales problemas.


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Reflexionando sobre nuestra experiencia con el club ambiental

Esta entrada es el resultado de una reflexión que hice con Isabel Morán acerca de su experiencia directa con el club ambiental de Jardines del Salado. El club ambiental se realizó durante 8 meses. Realizamos 16 sessions (los días sabados durante 2 a 3 horas), de los cuales 3 eran salidas al campo. Ver también Actividades ambientales para niños

Club Ambiental

¿Cómo describirás una sesión exitosa? La sesión es exitosa cuando los niños no están aburridos, cuando se puede ver su emoción y cuando hacen preguntas. Los niños son más transparentes que adultos. Puedes ver su interés de una. Con los adultos no es así. También, al principio de la clase se hace un resumen de la clase anterior, cuando se acuerden de la clase anterior, diría que es un éxito. Continue reading

Improving decision making for sustainability

About 5 years ago, I wrote out the list of questions below in order help me make better decisions for sustainability. I thought that it was about time that i dig them out and see how relevant and useful they seem now:

1) What is the problem/issue we are trying to solve/change?
-what is the root problem/issue?
-what influences are shaping this problem/issue? Continue reading

Complementing survey evaluations with feedback workshops

I recently ran an evaluation workshop with representatives of 3 NGOs. All groups had previously filled out an anonymous evaluation survey and my task was to present them with global results (the survey was run at the international level) and to improve understanding of results by asking participants to let us know if they agreed or disagreed with final results and then to document discussion and specific examples. All dialogue in the workshop also remained anonymous.

It was a jam packed 3.5 hours of conversation! Participants took turns speaking, listened to each others opinions and complemented each other with real-life examples. Together we were able to identify:

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Mi experiencia con el desarrollo comunitario

Jaime Betancourt, tesista en la escuela de Turismo en la Universidad de Especialidades Espiritu Santo, me hizo una entrevista muy interesante. Aquí comparto mis respuestas:


1.     ¿Cuáles son los principales obstáculos que en su experiencia han tenido para trabajar con comunidades?


El principal obstáculo que he tenido trabajando con comunidades tiene su raíz en el diseño del proyecto. Muchas veces los proyectos esperan una participación activa de la comunidad pero no incluyen un proceso adecuado para lograr una participación efectiva. Los tiempos y los recursos asignados, además de la poca atención a la capacitación y preparación necesaria para crear un ambiente participativo, contribuyen a una participación superficial y no sostenible de los beneficiarios en el proyecto. 

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