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Guelph family doctors are going green

Local physicians in the Green Health Care and Climate Change Initiative are raising awareness about the health impacts of climate change and making small but might changes within their own practices
Norfolk Medical during Green Shirt Day in the fall.

Worldwide, if healthcare were a country, it would be the second largest emitter of carbon gasses, according to Dr. Anne-Marie Zajdlik. 

“And if we could change, even small things we do in health care, we could reduce those emissions substantially,” she said. 

That’s why Guelph Family Health Team executive director Ross Kirkconnell and a team of physicians started the Green Health Care and Climate Change Initiative. 

For the past year, Zajdlik said they’ve been working to see how much health care workers in the city can contribute to decreasing emissions, through things like reducing the use of exam bed paper, recycling masks, recycling and using rechargeable batteries, and using non-aerosol inhalers for patients with breathing medications. 

In her own practice, Zajdlik said she hasn’t used table paper in about nine months. 

“If just one family doctor stopped using table paper in one exam room, we save 10,000 kilometres worth of gas emissions, because of the processing that takes place and making the table paper” she said. “If we have 120 family doctors (doing that), that’s really significant.”

Similarly, she said 100 doses of a blue aerosol inhaler release the equivalent in greenhouse gasses as driving a car 290 kilometres.

She and her colleagues have also been holding a larger number of appointments virtually, to reduce the carbon emissions associated with driving to the office. 

They hosted their first event in the fall, with physicians wearing green shirts and spreading the message online, the community to get involved. 

Since then, it’s only grown more popular. 

“Now, I don’t think there’s an office in Guelph that’s not involved,” she said of the more than 80 family doctors in the area; even the Guelph General Hospital is involved. 

Their next event, dubbed Green Health Day, is May 4. Like the last one, physicians will be wearing green shirts and spreading awareness about how climate change is a health issue. 

She pointed to issues like increased frequency of heat waves due to climate change, which can cause death by heat – particularly for people over 65. 

If it doesn’t cool down at night and there is no AC, she said the dehydration associated with that heat could lead to kidney failure, “and then eventually death by heat.” 

Her thought process is that if they can tackle climate change from a positive and proactive approach like this, it will “inspire hope and also create change.” 


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