Every 4 years, the world stops and watches in awe as one city in the world hosts the Olympic Games. The top athletes convene in one city to prove to the world their abilities and the world engages in friendly war, for once.  In 2008 the Summer Olympics were hosted by China, who made several efforts to be sure their display would be considered “green.” This February the Winter Olympics are being hosted in Vancouver, Canada.

It seems like a no brainer that Vancouver, who often makes the list of Greenest Cities (in fact 90% of the city is run on renewable energy), would have no issues making sure this year’s Winter Olympics is nothing short of Green. And sure enough, they started off with a bang! Making big steps to prove to the world they are Greening the Winter Olympics with LEED certified buildings and expanding the public transportation system, to name a few. In fact Vancouver is trying their hardest to be recognized as the “Greenest Olympics Games Ever.”

Obviously, these are terrific achievements and set a great example to the rest of the world. However, there are some serious things to consider. Because of an unseasonably warm winter this year (Gasp! Could Climate Change be to blame?!), British Colombia has seen less snow and required the committee to truck in loads of snow.  We don’t need to explain twice how this impacts the environment, with all the carbon emissions it has created. Although, the committee has reported it will be purchasing offsets for these emissions, they only plan on offsetting less than half. This begs to question, do the Vancouver Olympics really deserve Gold for their Green?

David Suzuki has put together a “Green Scorecard” for the Winter Olympics. And although they may score high for their LEED certified buildings and a Green Olympic Village, the imitation snow has left many wondering if they deserve such high regards. This scorecard gives them a Bronze medal, even though the UN and the Vancouver Olympics themselves are rewarding a Gold medal. However, even winter athletes are demanding that more attention be paid to the climate. With Climate Change directly affecting their sports, they want the Olympic committees and the host cities to commit to higher standards in the future.

So what could be done to be sure Olympic Games are as environmentally aware as they should be? Grist writer,  Jonathan Hiskes, makes an excellent suggestion.  In order to really and truly change the impact of the Olympic Games, why not make it stationary? And we kind of have to agree. Centralizing the Olympics close to where most athletes are based would cut down on building and travel costs, which are the biggest environmental offenders. Even though worldwide cities would lose tourist cash and a chance to show off to the world, the environmental impact would be enormous. If the Olympics are setting examples, as they claim, this would be one hefty example to make. Lollapalooza did it and survived, so why can’t the Olympics?

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Burgos 213 Photo By A. www.viajar24hHospitals are uninviting by nature, assaulting one’s senses almost immediately upon entry.  The inescapable odor of antiseptic wafting through the corridors,  the glaring fluorescent lights overhead that accentuate startlingly white walls, and the constant wailing beeps of machines that give the impression that someone is in mortal peril every 1.2 seconds tend to make even the healthiest of visitor feel as though their heart might explode.

Another Life Saved Photo By SarahMcD ॐA recent visit to the hospital saw my father rushed into a very serious emergency surgery. As I paced the floors of the Shapiro Cardiovascular Center, a facility that is part of the world-renowned Brigham and Women’s Hospital, I felt overcome with the extreme anxiety provoked by the fear of losing a loved one. At the time I was too preoccupied with hand-wrenching, constant clock checking, and nervous wood knocking to notice that this anxiety was in any way abnormal.  Worrying yourself sick is to be expected in these type of scenarios, what was notable, in retrospect, was that this anxiety was in no way punctuated by the normal agitating factors of a “normal” hospital environment. The air smelled fresh. The waiting room – even though located next to a busy street- was as quiet as a church on a Friday night. The walls were painted with a soft palate, the kind of hues that make you want to curl up with your favorite blanket and a good read. Not the typical institutional white that would ever leave someone remarking to their realtor, “Gosh Linda, it looks like a hospital in here!”, unless that sentence was followed up by, “And I love it! Let me go put on my jammies.”

BWH SHAPIRO PREP DAY4 from Brigham & Women's HospitalThankfully, my father pulled through his surgery. He spent his recovery in a room that if it were to be stripped of its adjustable bed and monitors would easily be mistaken for a high-end loft apartment. The spacious room had breathtaking views of the city, hard wood floors and stainless steel appliances.  The furthest thing from my mind at this time was this hospitals eco-friendliness, so grateful was I to see my father make it through a complicated surgery, I could have been told then that this magical place was run on the tear drops of children and been entirely fine with that knowledge. ( Hey- it was a rough time, in my defense,I would have sent these alleged children candy. Thanks imaginary crying children, you have made a huge difference. Now, remember, there is no Santa…try to cry towards the generators.)

As a couple of months passed and my rational,  less-selfish side was again accessed, I noticed an informative wall mural as I entered the Shapiro Center with my father for a follow-up visit. In a rush, due to a morning traffic jam, I only could read a few words of this educational section of wall…”Green…Hospital…Taco Friday”, as I made my way to the second floor.  Well I may be mistaken by some of what I gleaned, I made a mental note to look into this hospital’s green attributes when I returned home that evening. 

A week and half later I did a Google search. What I discovered made me love this hospital even more than I had before, a cherry on a sundae of awesome.  The Shapiro Cardiovascular Center is not only one of the most advanced cardiovascular care facilities in the world, but it is also the first Green Hospital building in all of New England.

Light09 Photo By Gong DiFrom its inception, the Shapiro Center kept  eco-friendly construction and practices in mind. The Center is not only LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, but followed The Green Guide for Health Care meticulously in its construction.   Low emitting adhesives, carpets and paints were used. More than 90 percent of construction waste was recycled.  Over 75 percent of the interior is exposed to natural light, which, while helping cut down on energy costs, also promotes positive mental health for quicker recoveries. The roof is painted white to deflect heat.  Forgoing the use of the commonly used  and toxin-emitting vinyl, the floors of this building are constructed of rubber. Staff also, whenever possible, use the least harmful cleaners available. 

Aluminum Winged Caduceus (Silver Spring, MD) Photo By takomabibelotA little more Google style detective work and I discovered that The Shapiro Center is also a member of the non-profit organization, Healthcare Without  Harm, which focuses on implementing change in how the Health Care industry operates. Elaborating on the pledge physicians take to do no harm, Healthcare without Harm is attempting to amend this oath to apply to the environment as well as patients, encouraging its members to see the impact one has on the other. As their mission statement  surmises, “ Together with our partners around the world, Health Care Without Harm shares a vision of a health care sector that does no harm, and instead promotes the health of people and the environment.”  

 

Untitled Photo By SarahMcD ॐI for one can attest for the effectiveness of this movement.  While gorgeous views, plentiful sunlight and lack of irritants in the air can not take the place of knowledgeable surgeons and skillful nurses, it does play an important role in the recovery process.  Beyond the benefits of an environment that discourages depression and other mental issues that can slow or sometimes even halt recovery times, healthy air is an invaluable benefit for most patients. My father suffers from COPD, a chronic respiratory condition. It is a complication that factors into any and all health problems he has.  A hospital that provides nearly pollutant-free air for his battered lungs is priceless to his overall well-being and his success in the recovery process.

Green Hospitals are not yet the norm, but hopefully the benefit of such institutions will soon be seen.  A building that promotes the health of its employees, patients, and visitors while keeping an eye out for mother earth  is almost enough to make up for the fact they run this place on the tears of children….oh, right, it doesn’t.  

Sorry about the Santa Claus thing, kiddies.  He is totally real, the Easter Bunny too, they hang out on weekends and talk about what a good kid you are. Honest. (No children were harmed in the making of this blog.)

-Meghan Hurley

For a little over 10 years, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) has proposed a new standard for building con struction focused on stronger energy efficiency and environmental standards. Known as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, the USGBC’s LEED program has grown to include of 14,000 projects in the United States. The program itself is based on a rating system that allows new and renovated buildings to achieve certain degrees of LEED from ‘certified’ to ‘silver’ to ‘platinum’ depending on the number of criteria that are me t in six standard categories .

As with any new system, LEED has experienced its share of growing pains as it has gone through continual refinement to meet the nuances and challenges that are found throughout the vast array of building projects throughout the world. Recently, the USGBC released its most advanced latest revision, LEED 2009, which incorporates rules for a wide variety of circumstances and attempts to achieve a baseline focus on not just things such as energy efficient appliances, but the overall holistic lifestyle approach to the building design and its operations. Ensuring such things such as shower facilities for bikers and low maintenance landscaping, LEED has always been concerned with and understands that the user experience is also at the heart of an energy efficient building.

However, the strength and credibility of the LEED program has grown with the current economic crisis.  A number of Federal Government American Recovery and Reinvestment Act grant applications have now required construction and building upgrades to achieve some level of LEED certification. Local and state governments are continually subsidizing and providing rebates for projects specifically certified by the LEED system.

However, many have been critical of the fact that LEED is not strong enough to meet the impending dangers of climate change. Perhaps in one of the most bold moves in the history of construction law for the state, Massachusetts is currently discussing a requirement that all construction projects, new or renovated, will often require some level of stringent energy efficient certification. Known as the ‘Stretch Energy Code”, all construction over 5,000 sq. ft., would inherently lower its total energy consumption an average of 40% when compared to current state code.

This isn’t good news to all. The Homebuilders Association views the measure as rash, potentially raising the cost of projects an additional $10,000 – money that the current economy can’t handle in the first place. The legitimate concerns call for a more nuanced approach, the respects all levels of sustainability, from environmental to economic.

Regardless of the specific actions taken, the news is promising as government policy, however slow, begins to catch up to the needs of the environment and the needs of the growing public concerned with our role in the world.

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