Sustaining Our Community and the Planet | Torrance Memorial

Published on April 18, 2022

Sustaining Our Community and the Planet

Torrance Memorial is making a positive impact on the environment by implementing ecologically-sustainable measures.

sustainability graphic

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 long has 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 systems upgrades have reduced electrical power usage by almost 120 million kilowatts per year—the equivalent of usage by 121,000 Torrance homes. At the same time, the medical center has been saving 1.14 million tons of carbon and more than $200,000 per year in expenses. Medical waste that used to be 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, nonsustainable items. The new Hunt Cancer Center, which opened last January, automatically incorporated sustainability measures.

Numerous initiatives are underway through Torrance Memorial’s Food & Nutrition Services unit. As part of a contract with Sodexo, a worldwide food and facilities management corporation, the 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 & 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 medical center, she says, is the Waste Watch program, in which daily monitoring of food production and leftovers, along with historical sales information, are used 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 later can be used in commercial landscaping operations, Johnson-Gilman says. Plastic and aluminum items are separated from garbage and recycled. A biologic additive is used in kitchen-sink drains to prevent the formation of a 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 onsite learning gardens about home gardening and how they can affordably integrate nutritious, organic food into their diet.” She says there are plans to eventually seek regulatory approval to utilize the produce from these gardens in Torrance Memorial’s cafes and patient meals.

“While currently Torrance Memorial’s sustainability efforts are 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.” 

10 Ways to Reduce Your Carbon Footprint & Recycling at Work

  1. Drive less, use public transportation or carpool. 
  2. Bring your lunch to work or walk to a local place
  3. Reduce the need for single use plastic baggies by packing your food in reusable containers.
  4. Use a reusable silverware set and store it at work – some even contain chopsticks – these are available to purchase in the gift shop and HealthLinks
  5. Look for a reliable reusable water bottle and reduce consuming single use bottles – there are many versions available to meet any budget with Hydro Flask, S’well and Yeti being popular insulated brands that keep water cool.
  6. Use reusable stainless steel or silicone straws
  7. Ditch take-out single use coffee cups – bring your own favorite mug
  8. Print less – if you must print, make sure it’s double-sided
  9. Switch lights off when you leave the room and unplug your electronic devices when they are not in use.
  10. Recycle in the workplace and inspire others to do so too.