Written by Robin Heffler
Scientists worldwide are continuing to sound the alarm about the impact
of climate change on the health of the planet and the urgent need to respond.
Torrance Memorial Medical Center has long been implementing ecologically-sustainable
measures and has plans to step up its efforts, according to Derek Berz,
senior vice president and chief administrative officer.
“We’ve had an approach to facilities management that has included
looking at our carbon footprint,” he says, referring to the impact
of medical center operations on the amount of carbon dioxide produced
through the burning of fossil fuels, which can increase greenhouse gases
and spur further climate change. “Also, water conservation efforts
have been in place over the last 10 years.”
Berz says those efforts have reduced water usage by 23 million gallons
per year, while lighting system upgrades have reduced electrical power
usage by almost 120 million kilowatts per year—the equivalent of
usage by 121,000 Torrance homes.
Sustainability efforts have also allowed the hospital to save 1.14 million
tons of carbon and more than $200,000 per year in expenses. And medical
waste, formerly shipped to Utah and sometimes New Jersey, is now disposed
of in California with near-zero emissions, thanks to a contract with a
new medical-waste disposal company.
When the Lundquist Tower was built in 2014, it triggered additional reviews
of the medical center’s efforts in the areas of electricity use,
water conservation and electric-car stations, Berz says. Management also
began looking at the efficiency of generators, how building equipment
is maintained, and the use of natural gas and diesel fuel to reduce heavy,
non-sustainable items. The new Hunt Cancer Center, which opened in December
2019, automatically incorporated sustainability measures.
Numerous initiatives are underway through Torrance Memorial’s Food
and Nutrition Services unit. As part of a contract with Sodexo, a worldwide
food and facilities management corporation, the Food and Nutrition Services
unit participates in the Better Tomorrow Plan 2025 to reduce the ecological
burden of food service operations.
“This allows us to learn what other hospitals and food service operations
are doing to increase and improve sustainable practices and to share best
practices,” says Johanna Johnson-Gilman, director of Food and Nutrition
Services at Torrance Memorial. “Also, by being in a very eco-conscious
community and state, we are often privy to more eco-conscious activities
we can share with operations in other states.”
One key food services initiative at the hospital, she says, is the Waste
Watch program, which daily monitors food production and leftovers, along
with historical sales information, in order to cook food in batches sized
to prevent overproduction. Meals chosen by patients from a menu are cooked
to order to avoid waste. And menus are designed to encourage plant-based
eating for both individual health and to reduce the environmental impact
of raising animals for food.
“Any leftovers that cannot be used on campus are sent to our close
partner, the Fresh Rescue Food Bank in Torrance, to help meet the food
insecurity needs of the local community,” Johnson-Gilman says. Since
the beginning of this program, Torrance Memorial has donated more than
15,000 pounds of food—the equivalent of more than 12,000 meals.
Through Sodexo’s food-supply contracts, a strategic plan has significantly
reduced the number of days per week food is delivered, thus contributing
to a reduction in carbon emissions from delivery trucks.
Recycling measures include taking vegetable food scraps to a facility where
they are composted and can later be used in commercial landscaping operations,
Johnson-Gilman says. At the facility, plastic and aluminum items are separated
from garbage and recycled. A biologic additive is used in kitchen-sink
drains to prevent the formation of toxic and corrosive gas from food waste.
Another key initiative is replacing disposable plastic utensils, plates,
cups and straws with a combination of paper/pulp and recycled or corn-based
plastics, as well as recyclable cans and bottles. She notes these measures
have been partially derailed because of some supply chain disruptions
and increased demand for “to-go” tableware due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In cooperation with the Community Programs department, a gardening program
has been started. “When in-person community classes can resume again,”
Johnson-Gilman says, “we want to educate community members through
on-site learning gardens about home gardening and how they can affordably
integrate nutritious, organic food into their diet.” She says plans
are underway to eventually seek regulatory approval to utilize the produce
from these gardens in Torrance Memorial’s cafes and patient meals.
“While Torrance Memorial’s sustainability efforts are currently
segmented into facilities, nursing, and food and nutrition,” Berz
says, “we’re in the process of putting everything under one
umbrella to maximize efficiency and effectiveness.”