By Austin Park
Our team has difficult questions to answer. When there are already design firms, tech teams, and sustainability officers working on hospital sustainability projects, where does a brand-new academic research team fit? When there is already a sustainability director for the hospital and myriad teams tasked with specific greening agendas, how can we be effective? Even though most of the projects are moving at the rapid bureaucratic pace of molasses, the goal has been identified, the work assigned, and the project is underway, no matter how slowly.
We are entering a heavily structured, high-stakes system, and we have much less knowledge than the full-time workers there. The obvious first step is self-education. At our general meeting, our entire team pledged to read every report from past Hospital Sustainability teams, the entire UCLA hospital sustainability website, and any additional material we can find on steps other hospitals have taken. This may bring a resounding “duh” to mind, but this represents a significant time investment for college students who are, among many things, double majoring, taking four academic classes, working part-time, and chairing clubs. It speaks to my team’s dedication to making our project a success despite any setbacks and outside time commitments. I was inspired by their willingness to jump in.
While we buff up our background knowledge in hospital sustainability, it is worth pointing out what our team will add to the hospital. First, we are packed hot-off-the-libraries with a huge range of environmental science knowledge and practical experience. Second, we feel that we know better than anyone, save our professors, how dire our environmental situation really is, and that pushes us to act.
So, although creating a two-bin system is already in the hands of a design firm, surveying patients on food satisfaction and preference will involve intense bureaucratic delay and hoop-jumping, and energy-saving software no longer appears economically viable, our team has poured more energy than ever into finding a powerful research project. When asked how he felt about failing 10,000 times to create a functioning light bulb, Thomas Edison said, “I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work." Similarly, we have found at least 10 hospital sustainability projects that won’t work; we are on our way to our light bulb.