Med center in energy curtailment

UNMC and the Nebraska Medical Center will be in energy curtailment through Friday. The goal of energy curtailment periods is to use less energy on days when the combined heat and humidity create stress on campus energy systems.

The Energy Curtailment page of LiveGreen provides a full explanation, but you should no longer be freezing cold in your office during energy curtailment. Please note that when you first walk in it will still feel cool.

In the past, many of you felt cold on curtailment days. It seemed backward, that you would save energy by having it be colder in spaces when it was so hot out. It was an effective way to save energy and money though — it’s inefficient to produce heat when it’s hot out, and that’s what we were doing. By not producing that heat, some spaces felt cold.

Due to updated technology, spaces will not need to be pre-cooled to as cold of temperatures as in the past in order to see the energy savings. This does mean that your space will likely get warmer in the afternoon. For example, instead of finding your space at 67 degrees when you arrive, it could be at 70. In the afternoon, instead of being at 72, it will be 75.

Not only does this tend to mirror what happens in a residential situation, but it is also overwhelmingly what you, the building occupants, have requested. You were cold sitting at your desk and would rather have it be a little warmer and we are happy to report that this is now possible.

The med center has a temperature range to maintain. Please call 402-552-3347 (Nebraska Medicine) or 402-559-4050 (UNMC) to report spaces colder than 66 degrees or warmer than 78 degrees.

Patient care and research spaces are not affected by energy curtailment. Read how you can help save energy during curtailment and always.

World Oceans Day

Today is World Oceans Day — a day essentially as important as Earth Day, considering how much the ocean supports humanity and all other organisms on earth.

Oceanic and human life are both at great risk as the climate continues to change. Oceans cover 70% of the earth, absorb 93% of the heat from the sun and capture 30% of the carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. Forty percent of the world’s population lives within 60 miles of the coast, and half a billion people rely on the ocean for their primary food intake. Taking all these statistics into account, it’s easy to see how human survival is directly correlated with oceanic survival.

We already have seen drastic changes in oceans’ water levels, pH and currents, all of which are huge components in sea life and human survival.

  • As water levels continue to rise, there will be more deadly storm surges and flooding. This has specific impacts on coastal states, but landlocked states also will be impacted when it comes to seafood consumption, agriculture production, population control issues and more.
  • The ocean’s pH already has changed from about 8.2 to now 8.1. This doesn’t seem like a huge decrease, but because it’s measured logarithmically, it is an enormous change. The ocean is nearly 25% more acidic now than it was before the Industrial Revolution. With this increase in acidity, some species are not able to survive, which throws off the entire ecosystem.
  • Ocean currents are starting to change in direction and size. This makes water from different regions mix together, affecting the temperature of the ocean and ultimately having significant impact on the weather.

The overwhelming amount of changes already occurring causes concern, but luckily there are many groups helping to bring attention to the issues in our oceans. Visit the World Oceans Day website to find resources on where to learn more. Also, check out Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson’s interview with Ezra Klein to learn more about the role of oceans in our lives and in the fight against climate change.

By helping protect the ocean, we also are helping protect the human population and our health.

World Environment Day is June 5

This Saturday, June 5, is World Environment Day. This day was founded in 1972, and in the following years, a platform was created to raise awareness about the many problems facing the environment. Some of these problems include air pollution, plastic pollution, sea level increase and food security.

Every year, a theme is declared that focuses on one major issue. This year, it’s ecosystem restoration. The diversity and wellbeing of our ecosystems correlate with the health and wellbeing of the human population, through benefits such as more fertile soils, bigger yields of timber and fish, the storage of greenhouse gas emissions and more.

Ecosystem restoration ties in with the 17 United Nations Sustainable Goals in a number of ways. Two goals impacted by this year’s theme are “Life Below Water” and “Good Health and Well-Being.”

Restoration to ecosystems below water is important considering water covers 71% of the earth’s surface. Climate change already has significant impacts on oceans, and millions of tons of plastic waste is being dumped into the water — with detrimental effects on all ecosystems. If there are drastic changes to the ecosystems below water, there will be negative effects to human health and wellbeing. For example, seafood will become contaminated as animals consume the waste that’s piling up in the oceans. One slight change in the aquatic ecosystem can have a domino effect on all other ecosystems in the environment. With restoration to ecosystems below water, our oceans, land and air will be cleaner, and human health and wellbeing will flourish.

There are many subcategories of ecosystems that are being focused on this year for World Environment Day, like farmlands, forests, freshwaters, grasslands and savanna’s, mountains, oceans and coasts, peatlands and all urban areas. On the World Environment Day webpage, you can play a game and choose which ecosystem you want to learn more about, get updates on what is happening and pledge to act.

How you decide to commemorate World Environment Day this year — whether it’s educating yourself and others or taking actions to help make our ecosystems healthier — can have a lasting impact on not only the health and wellbeing of our planet but also all of the people living on it.

Energy curtailment

Energy curtailment allows the university to control its maximum energy demand, or “peak.”

By reducing unnecessary energy use, the university can ensure that essential energy needs are met. Lower energy means lower emissions, better air quality and better health for the community – the Med Center’s mission. It also saves the Med Center money, as utility rates are based on peak use. The maximum of energy used at any given time determines the rate the Med Center pays for the entire next year.

Updating technology has allowed the Med Center to control this process better. Spaces that were previously cold will be affected differently by energy curtailment. They will still be pre-cooled at night. “Pre-cooling” is a literal term — spaces are cooled in the early morning before people arrive. This also is when energy use is lower across campus, and before the sun shines and temperatures increase. Spaces are often cooled below the temperature set on the thermostat, which makes it easier for the system to keep up once the heat and humidity are in full effect.

However, these spaces will not need to be pre-cooled this year to such a cold temp to see the energy savings. This does mean that your space will likely get a little warmer in the afternoon. Not only does this tend to mirror what happens in a residential situation, it is overwhelmingly what you, the building occupants, requested.

Research and patient care areas are not impacted by energy curtailment.

We need your help! When we are in energy curtailment, we’ll ask you to help ease the energy load:

  • Close shades, blinds and curtains whenever possible to reduce solar heat gain. (Did you know this can decrease the temperature by more than 20 degrees?);
  • Lower lighting levels where possible, turn off lights in unoccupied areas and when leaving a room;
  • Turn off and unplug all electrical equipment not in use (computers, coffee makers, printers, chargers, etc.);
  • Shut fume hood sashes when not in use. (This does not decrease safety; fans are always running, but can slow down with a smaller opening, which is why it is quieter);
  • Open doors manually instead of using the ADA buttons;
  • Take the stairs instead of the elevator; and
  • Tell others.

These easy steps combine to have a huge impact, on the hot days and for the year ahead.

Happy National Transportation Week

May 17-23 is National Transportation Week — a week designed to acknowledge the hard-working employees in the transportation industry. Especially during this past year, as Omaha Rapid Bus Transit (ORBT) was launched alongside the challenges of the pandemic, Omaha’s transportation employees took on many obstacles.

National Transportation Week also provides an opportunity to recognize the many benefits of public transportation. As more people use public transportation, fewer cars on the road are releasing emissions that pollute the air. Increased use of public transportation also leads to a reduction in the need for parking, which costs money and takes up space.

Plus, it’s healthier for your body. Air pollution has many connections to public health issues, including myocardial ischemia, chest pain, coughing, throat irritation and more. And there is a much lower rate of passenger death rates for buses compared to passenger vehicles.

ORBT helps eliminate many of the barriers that might normally prevent individuals from using public transportation as it is fast, cheap (free until early summer) and convenient. Metro Transit also just announced on April 22 that K-12 students will ride for free as a part of a new pilot program.

If you are unable to use public transportation or are concerned because of the pandemic, another sustainable option is to ride a bicycle. Like using public transit, biking helps the environment and benefits your health in many ways, through increased cardiovascular fitness, decreased stress levels, decreased body fat levels and reduced anxiety and depression. To learn more about the health benefits of bicycling, click here.

You can celebrate National Transportation Week by:

  • Attending our Metro Transit webinar with Jason Rose, on May 19 at 11-11:30 a.m., to learn more about ORBT and the future of Omaha Metro Transit. Save this Zoom link to join the webinar next Wednesday.
  • Trying out ORBT or another city bus (or riding your bicycle) instead of using your car, even for a short errand. When you do, consider thanking city bus drivers and follow appropriate safety procedures.
  • Making a change in your commute to campus. Register here for our TravelSmart program to get started.

Bikeshare and transit

As the weather warms up, we can expect to see an increase in bicycle commuters coming to campus.

If you don’t own a bicycle, or only need a bicycle for part of your commute, Heartland B-Cycle’s program can be an excellent option to provide transportation to campus.

Active commuting can be inconvenient due to limited access to transit stops. By using bikeshare, riders can get closer to a destination where buses might not travel. Bikeshare can be a catalyst for people who want to ditch their car but are held back by the “first and last mile” problem, or who live just far enough that walking isn’t always an option. Using a B-Cycle bike also eliminates concerns about taking your bike on the bus or locking it outside on campus. With the addition of electric bikes to the B-Cycle fleet, riders can choose to have a little help getting up those hills and can arrive to work or school faster (and less sweaty).

Biking also makes you healthier in many ways. A study in the United Kingdom in 2017 found that “commuters who cycled to work had a 41% lower risk of dying from all causes than people who drove to work.” Bike commuters had similarly lower risks of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease and cancer. Biking and using the bus also decrease emissions that pollute the environment and harm our health.

Heartland B-Cycle has stations across the metro area. Check out the station map to find locations that are convenient for your commute — like one of the six stations on or near the Omaha campus. You can also use the station map to see how many bikes are available at each station and if there are any electric bikes, as well. On your ride to work, remember to always wear a helmet, and ride with the traffic or use bicycle lanes whenever possible.

This month, Nebraska Medicine employees can purchase an annual B-Cycle pass for a discounted rate of $20 through the Wellbeing Department. Contact Zac Turbes at 402-552-2775 or visit the Fitness Center on the ground floor of Clarkson Tower. There are a limited number of passes, so passes will be first-come, first-served. UNMC students can receive a discounted pass through B-Cycle’s student program, which offers annual passes at a rate of $50 per pass.

A review of sustainability successes

In celebration of Earth Month this year, Lindsay Neemann, manager of facilities and planning, sat down with UNMC Chancellor Jeffrey P. Gold, MD, to discuss sustainability efforts at the med center.

The episode of “Under the Microscope” highlighted some of the many exciting sustainability achievements at the med center, particularly in regard to transportation and TravelSmart. More achievements are highlighted below, along with some 2030 goals. More information on the med center’s sustainability journey is available on the sustainability journey timeline.

Net Zero Water: Limit water use to a budget equal to the amount of rainfall on campus annually.

Since baselining, the med center has reduced water usage by about 20%, the equivalent of 451 Olympic-sized swimming pools saved since 2012. This success largely has come from reducing irrigation, planting more trees and converting grass turf to other landscaping where applicable. Encouraging colleagues to report leaks and drips also has been a key strategy.

Net Zero Waste: Increase percentage of materials diverted from the landfill by weight to 90%.

From 2012 to 2020, the med center increased its waste diversion about 5%. Recycling waste from construction and demolition has been a major achievement in this area. Composting and reducing materials (like paper for printing) are potential priorities, as well.

Emissions: Net-zero building emissions. Reduce emissions by 154K metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent.

The med center has reduced emissions by 12% from baseline. Ensuring that new buildings are designed to be as energy efficient as possible will be a priority, with the help of the recently updated design guidelines. Installation of LED lights has decreased electricity usage by 52%, saving the med center $231,000 annually. And solar energy is now being generated onsite through the installation of 1,587 solar panels — the largest rooftop solar array in Nebraska.

Campus Engagement: Sustainability engagement score (SES) of 85.

From 2012 to December 2019, the med center’s SES score went from 45 to 57. The LiveGreen Ambassador Program has been essential to increasing this metric, with more than 250 colleagues and students attending annual trainings, helping educate peers and advancing initiatives on campus.

To stay up to date on the med center’s goals, check out the dashboard.

Project Drawdown

According to CO2-Earth, the current parts per million (ppm) of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the Earth’s atmosphere is 419.90. In 2020, it was 416.33.

As these numbers continue to rise, it seems harder and harder to reach a point where we are actually decreasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere. Project Drawdown was founded in 2014 “to help the world reach ‘Drawdown’ — the future point in time when levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere stop climbing and start to steadily decline.”

As a nonprofit research center, Project Drawdown works to create climate solutions and strategies for reaching this goal. They have developed a framework with strategies in three categories:

  • Reduce sources (the emission-producing sectors);
  • Support sinks (the natural or artificial systems that absorb or drawdown emissions); and
  • Improve society.

Here are a few exciting and surprising strategies:

  • Reduce food waste: “A third of the food raised or prepared does not make it from farm or factory to fork. Producing uneaten food squanders a whole host of resources-and generates greenhouse gases at every stage.” In fact, food waste makes up about 8% of global emissions.
  • Eat a plant-rich diet. Currently, much of the Western world’s diet relies on meat. This reliance on meat produces one-fifth of global emissions.
  • Educate girls. “Educated girls realize higher wages and greater upward mobility, contributing to economic growth. Education shores up resilience and equips girls and women to face the impacts of climate change. They can be more effective stewards of food, soil, trees and water, even as nature’s cycles change.”

Drawdown is working to push people, cities and countries to adopt these strategies in order to decrease emissions and create a more equal and tolerant society. These are just a few strategies; find all of Project Drawdown’s strategies here.

The med center is doing a Drawdown Ecochallenge for Earth Month. Check it out here. You also can join the ongoing Drawdown Ecochallenge and continue to take action after April ends.

Reducing printing, waste

For Earth Month, we wanted to highlight a sustainability success within the medical center community.

While working from home, the Nebraska Medicine Payer Relations Department was able to decrease paper usage by 83% — from 161,156 sheets of paper printed annually (as of March 2019) to 27,718 (March 2020).

We talked to Payer Relations Manager Betsy Noble about their paper reduction and how they achieved it.

Payer relations is responsible for the medical staffing office and manages 21 health insurance payers. The department receives hundreds of files each year and is required to print these documents to mark them up, go to primary sourcing sites and conduct verifications, resulting in paper files of 30-150 pages. Files are then verified, signed off and stored in file cabinets in warehouses for seven years.

Noble said that the most significant factor in reducing payer relations printing has been the use of Adobe PDF. With this program, the process can be done completely in PDF files, and the files are all stored digitally on computers instead of in file cabinets. Previously, files were passed from person to person, generating many high touch surfaces and contact within the office.

With the files online, there is less physical contact between staff through these papers, producing a safer and healthier environment. The shift has also helped the department improve workflow. Staff can fax directly from the computer through Adobe without printing anything, which creates a quicker process for moving important files to the right places. Unfortunately, due to Medicare and Iowa Medicaid requirements regarding paper copies, the department will not be able to go fully paperless unless the federal government decides to do so.

The COVID-19 pandemic has established the need for innovation and adaptation, and some changes will stick.

“We will never go back to printing,” Noble said. “I encourage everyone to look into the paper they are printing. Is there a way these can be done in PDFs and an online setup? Anyone who has paper processes should be encouraged to move to digital. It will be a tough transition, but it is necessary.”

The transition will help in reducing waste, improving workflow and avoiding disease transmission.

Once paper is printed, it’s important to dispose of it the right way — shred and recycle. As a reminder, the personal document shredding and e-waste recycling event is next Tuesday and Wednesday, April 20-21.

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