Feature Stories


Ana Toepel, Green Impact, May 2019


UCSF Students Champion Sustainability on Campus


Last year at the 8th annual UCSF sustainability awards Yaser Khoshal and Hugo Aguilar, both Pharmacy students and UC Carbon Neutrality Initiative (CNI) fellows, became official UCSF Green Champions. They received the 2018 sustainability award in the student team category, having been nominated by faculty member Katherine Gruenberg, PharmD for instilling a culture of sustainable practices amongst their peers. 

In her nomination, Gruenberg noted that throughout their CNI fellowship Khoshal and Aguilar engaged students in the health professions schools on environmental sustainability topics. For two years, they led an inter-professional elective course, Earth Health, which aims to enhance foundational knowledge about the synergy between climate change and health, shape attitudes regarding the impact of climate change on health, and promote activism and behavior supporting sustainable healthcare. Pre- and post-course surveys demonstrated the positive impact of the course, showing that students experienced a significant increase in their knowledge, attitudes, and behaviors related to environmental health.

Khoshal shared that he and Aguilar saw a need to address climate change and how it affects health in the curricula for health professions students and designed the course to bridge this gap in students’ knowledge. “We wanted to ensure that future healthcare leaders in the community will be aware of this issue and be ready to discuss it with patients and other stakeholders in the community.” Aguilar’s childhood experience growing up near the Port of Los Angeles—where eighteen-wheeler trucks outnumber passenger cars on the highway and the air is saturated with diesel exhaust—was also inspiration for the course. “I knew from seeing friends and family members suffer from asthma attacks from a young age that it was due to the environment we were living in. I went on to study environmental systems as an undergraduate, and when I arrived at UCSF I thought it was the perfect arena to address health and the environment as interconnected topics.”

Khoshal and Aguilar also focused their efforts on increasing awareness of safe disposal of medications. They conducted a survey of health professions students at UCSF between Oct. 2017 and Feb. 2018 to assess student knowledge and behavior towards safe medication disposal practices. Survey results demonstrated the need for more information about safe disposal and accessibility to a safe disposal location on the UCSF campus. These results supported the safe medication disposal project, which helped install a  medication disposal kiosk at the Parnassus Walgreens.

The two green champions both think it’s important for UCSF as a leader in healthcare and education to be at the forefront of sustainable practices and to train future health professionals to be advocates for a more sustainable world. They are glad to support UCSF’s LivingGreen program in bringing attention to sustainability efforts at UCSF. An opportunity they happily took was presenting an interactive session during orientation for incoming classes of pharmacy students about UCSF’s recycling and waste reduction services. They feel good about their sustainability accomplishments, especially “getting the attention of school officials and students and helping to make sustainability and a healthy environment a bigger part of the conversation.”

In their personal lives, Yaser and Hugo are walking their talk as well. Yaser says, “I try to make conscious purchases that minimize immediate or long-term waste.” He also has decreased consumption of beef because of the impact on climate change and is supporting local farmer’s markets as much as he can. Hugo is also conscious of his consumer habits and cooks meals at home. He shares, “At UCSF I made great efforts to minimize my carbon footprint by riding my motorcycle for the majority of my treks to campus, and I take advantage of digital learning as much as possible.”

Follow Yaser and Hugo’s Lead and Take Action
Here are a few recommendations from Yaser and Hugo for taking action related to sustainability:

  • Dispose of your unwanted medications responsibly. At the UCSF Parnassus campus, use the safe medication disposal bin at Walgreen’s, which is available to everyone for free. You can bring in any prescription or non-prescription medication that you no longer use and dispose of it safely. There are numerous other sites in San Francisco that take back medications, too; you can find them here.
  • Learn more about what it means to strive to live more sustainably. Check out the EarthHealth elective and sustainability events at UCSF. UCSF’s sustainability website also has a wide variety of inspiring and informative videos on sustainability topics. 
  • Sign up for climate action events. There are many groups and organizations around the San Francisco Bay area working to address environmental justice and climate change issues that provide opportunities to get involved. Check here and here for listings.