Captain Hindsight and the Scaley Masses

By Austin Park

Christmas came in April this year. Only I was Santa Claus, and I got a scale, not chocolate and fancy toys. The Hospital Sustainability Research Team assembled on Tuesday at the Ronald Reagan Medical Center (RRMC). We were about to begin collecting data and assessing the impact of nudges on environmental behavior. Unfortunately, we had not actually looked at the bags of trash that we were to measure. Using my superior 20/20 hindsight, I have concluded that having little prior knowledge is a bad idea.

The experiment is designed to measure the effect of placing a sticker that reminds restroom users that paper towels come from trees. We suspect that a nudge like this will encourage the potty crowd to conserve paper towels after handwashing. To establish a control, we are measuring the paper towel consumption before and after placing the sticker. Since mass is our metric of choice, we need a scale. Which brings me to Christmas. When we showed up on Tuesday, we had a bathroom scale to measure the paper towel waste. Considering the size of the hospital, we expected bulging, dense bags of trash. Instead, the bags were flimsy and unfilled. The amount of waste was so small that we needed a kitchen scale--something that could measure on the scale of grams, not kilograms. So thanks to the wonders of Amazon Prime 2-Day Shipping, there was a several day delay with a $15 price tag, and we will be back to the data collecting come Monday.

The greenest among you know that Earth day is coming up soon. I love to imagine a day filled with sunny strolls through redwood glens and sand crunching underfoot at a beach bonfire as waves fill ears with calming euphony. Or maybe a day of breezing through powder on frozen slopes, watching shafts of light filter through cloud cover. However, it usually means a normal day, with a slightly above average chance of doom and gloom barraging environmentally conscious areas from the northeast at 5-10 pessimistic conversations per hour. For the Hospital Sustainability Team, this day is slightly different; we will be helping our stakeholder, Teresa Hildebrand, organize RRMC’s Earth Day Fair. By focusing on education, we will show healthcare workers how an individual impacts sustainability and how they can improve personal practices.

There is also an enticingly faint possibility that we can address the gravity of the environmental issues we face without spreading a cloud of depression. Instead, we hope to infuse the environmental attitude with optimistic determination. So come one, come all, this is not a tale of skyfall.