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You know that it’s important to practice sustainability, but what does this actually mean?

In essence, sustainability is working and living in a way that promotes the longevity of the planet and ensures quality of life for all communities. It combines environmentalism, environmental justice, inclusivity and equity.

“For me, sustainability is essentially about taking actions to ensure the environment and other systems remain in good shape for future generations,” says Daimon Eklund, UW Sustainability communications coordinator.

In time for Earth Day, the UW Sustainability team shares tips for doing just that.

A commitment to environmental practices

In 2019, UW Medicine was one of eight founding members of the Washington Health Care Climate Alliance. Through this work, UW Medicine is committed to reducing its carbon footprint, promoting sustainability and advocating for climate-smart policies and legislation.

Our hospitals also lead the nation in sustainability practices, such as implementing an on-site roof solar array, cutting energy costs and reducing carbon emissions.

Harborview Medical Center and UW Medical Center have received numerous Environmental Excellence Awards. Harborview has been recognized among the top 25 greenest hospitals in the country for nine consecutive years, and UW Medical Center has been recognized for 13 years.

In addition, both hospitals have received awards recognizing efforts to reduce waste, recycle clinical plastics and make environmentally conscious purchases.

Ways to be more sustainable

As a part of a health system that is committed to environmentally friendly practices, you have plenty of ways to improve your own sustainability — and plenty of support in these endeavors.

“The first thing to know is there are lot of different things people can do,” Eklund says. “Start with small changes you can build on over time and find what works for you and what you feel is important.”

Reduce waste

At work or home, being mindful of what you buy can make a difference.

Before you buy, consider if you really need the item. In many cases you have other options, like purchasing the same item with less packaging, buying a used alternative or shopping from a local business.

By reusing current items and reducing waste, there will be less methane gas from waste in landfills and less trash that ends up in the ocean.

Save energy

“Some of the biggest gains around energy can be made by thinking about temperature,” Eklund says.

Conserving energy helps reduce carbon emissions. To cut back, try to use your heater and air conditioner less. Even keeping the thermostat a couple degrees lower in the winter or higher in the summer will help to save energy over the course of a year.

Drive less

As the weather gets warmer, consider if you can switch to walking or biking as your primary mode of transportation — especially if you would otherwise be the only person in the vehicle. This will reduce your carbon footprint.

While alternative modes of transportation aren’t always an option, Eklund notes this is a great way to cut down on carbon emissions.

Encourage workplace sustainability

When you onboard a new team member, be sure to let them know about any office sustainability efforts, including how to recycle and compost in your building or unit.

You can also share articles and chat with co-workers about sustainability to keep the conversation and efforts ongoing.

How to get involved

If you’re looking to join a sustainability team or project already in place at UW Medicine or the University of Washington, we have those, too.

One way to be in the know is to check out the UW Sustainability Action Plan, which outlines the university’s efforts and goals. Each year, you can attend meetings to revise and fine tune UW’s sustainability mission.

But this is just the beginning of how you can get involved.