UCSF Sustainability Stories

Deborah Fleischer & Jennifer Armenta, Green Impact, August 2015

UCSF Green Champion - Dr. Gina Solomon Wins UCSF Sustainability Award

GinaEvery year, UCSF Sustainability Awards are granted to staff, students, and faculty that promote sustainability at UCSF. The winners have gone above and beyond the duties of their position to integrate environmental sustainability into existing campus programs in education, research, operations, and public service. They are helping to instill a culture of sustainable practices amongst their peers and instrumental in helping UCSF reach their environmental sustainability goals.

This year’s faculty winner was Dr. Gina Solomon, an occupational and environmental medicine specialist, who was recognized for her passion and dedication to education and research in environmental health, climate change, and policy. Her research interests include health effects associated with climate change and heat waves, infectious disease shifts, and public health strategies for preparing for climate change.

Dr. Solomon has taken the lead role in organizing an environmental health elective for UCSF’s Student Health Professionals for Social Responsibility, which embraces students from multiple health professions spanning the schools of Medicine, Dentistry, Nursing, and Pharmacy. Her faculty sponsorship reinvigorated the environmental health elective course which had been offered every other year.  This past year, she worked closely with Anya Desai, a fourth year medical student.and fellow Sustainability Award recipient, to introduce social equity, environmental health, and greening healthcare, all areas relevant to UCSF’s sustainability goals and practices.

Each month we will be interviewing one of the 2015 Sustainability Award winners. This month we had the pleasure of speaking with Dr. Solomon about UCSF and her passion for sustainability.

Why do you think sustainability is important for UCSF?

Sustainability is critical for UCSF because it is critical for the planet. If the current generation does not find a path to planetary sustainability, then we will be sending all future generations down a path that leads to incalculable disease and suffering. Knowing this, we must embrace our responsibility to work for sustainability as individuals, and also within our families, hospitals, schools, cities, and countries. UCSF has a particularly important role as an institution because of its strong history of leadership safeguarding human health, including battling the scourge of tobacco-related disease, pushing for more rigorous health policies, and working across cultures and international borders to create new a healthcare standard. If UCSF shows it can be done, others will follow.

What do you see as the link between health and the environment?

Our environment is so intertwined with our health that it’s difficult to separate the two. Our bodies are constantly reacting to the quality of the air we breathe, water we drink, food we eat, and products we use. All of these things are well-known to have the potential to either enhance our health or to cause disease. Climate change poses additional health threats, which are layered on top of existing environmental challenges. For example, rising temperatures cause increased risk of heat-related illness, but also a rise in the formation of ground-level ozone, which is associated with a surge in asthma and respiratory disease. Changes in the climate will result in shifts of human vector-borne diseases, and also agricultural pests that are treated with toxic pesticides. Drought and flooding will cause not only direct health and economic impacts, but will also lead to increased displacement of populations and the multiple challenges associated with refugee and migrant health. The current drought in California vividly demonstrates how dependent we are on our climate.

What accomplishment are you most proud of around promoting LiveGreen at UCSF?

LivingGreen is a fantastic program because it was designed to show that small actions can create synergies and collectively can make a real difference. People tend to feel paralyzed when it comes to sustainability, but LivingGreen proved that day-to-day activities can have a dramatic effect on the health of the planet. I think that many of the dedicated people working on sustainability across UCSF, myself included, feel that our individual part of the picture is small, but we can all take enormous pride in our collective accomplishments.

What is one action you would like to see your fellow staff/students take?

The more I work on issues related to health and the environment, the more concerned I have become about the over-consumption of meat and the damaging effects that beef production can have on the environment. After learning that a single factory farm creates as much sewage as an average size town and that cows are a bigger source of greenhouse gas than cars, I am not a vegetarian, but I have reduced meat to a much smaller part of my diet. The best thing we can do for our own health and that of the environment is to eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat.