Deborah Fleischer, Green Impact, August 2016

Spotlight on UCSF Sustainability Award Winner: Sarah Berger, Staff Category Medical Center

Sarah Berger, RN, medical surgery ICU, was recently awarded the UCSF 2016 Sustainability Award. The award recognizes her leadership in introducing several green initiatives on her unit as well as increasing awareness of UCSF’s existing sustainability initiatives. She successfully launched recycling in each patient room and started the composting of paper towels. In addition, thanks to Sarah’s efforts, the medical surgery ICU now includes its green initiatives as part of the unit orientation for all new employees. All these efforts led both 9th and 13th floor units to be LivingGreen Certified at the Gold level. Sarah’s passion and enthusiasm engages nurses to be part of UCSF’s sustainability initiatives.

We had the opportunity to ask Sarah a few questions about sustainability at UCSF.

1.  What sparked your interested in sustainability personally?
I grew up in New Hampshire where environmental protection is a big priority, however the hospitals that I worked in on the East Coast did not have any green initiatives. When I moved to San Francisco and started working at UCSF, my passion for environmentalism was reignited. UCSF’s and San Francisco’s goal of getting to zero waste is very exciting to me.  I feel that all of our efforts to reduce waste are actually making a difference. 

2.  How do you see the connection between health care and sustainability?
As health care providers we are taught to do no harm and I believe that extends to the Earth and to our future generations.  Health care creates lots of waste, and I believe it is our responsibility to minimize that waste.  There is so much we can do to reduce our impact on the environment.

3.  What inspired you to get involved in sustainability at UCSF?

The first time I visited UCSF I was very impressed with all of the sustainability initiatives.  I had never worked at a hospital that had such a comprehensive program.  The Living Green department has so much to offer, and unfortunately, our unit wasn’t taking advantage of its great programs.  With the support of our manager, I was able to work towards getting 9/13 ICU certified as a green unit.  I was excited that many of our staff were engaged with recycling and very receptive to all of the changes involved in becoming a certified green unit. 

4.  What aspect of sustainability at UCSF do you find most exciting?  Most challenging?

What is exciting to me is how much we can accomplish as an institution.  It seems there is always something more we can do to reduce our environmental impact.  What is most challenging for me is getting staff buy-in.  It does take an extra step to recycle and compost in patient care areas (and all areas, to be honest), and it’s important that people understand why it matters and that it does make a difference. 

5.  What one call to action would you ask of the UCSF community?

Reduce.  Recycling is great, but reducing is even better.  Bring your own cup and keep reusable utensils in your lunch box.  For my inpatient coworkers: don’t bring extra linens and supplies into patient rooms.  These often go wasted. 

6.  What is one thing about yourself we might not know if you didn’t tell us?‎

I can Irish Step Dance!  Also, I have a gray water system at home that I installed myself.  I attended a Laundry-to-landscape workshop where they teach you how to install it and lend you the tools you will need.  Every time I do a load of laundry, my yard and garden get watered.  Our avocado tree had a record producing year.  I highly recommend this program to anyone in San Francisco.