Healthy Living in the North

Meet our Northern biking champions: Laurel from Prince George

A woman wearing a bike helmet, perched on an orange bicycle, on a sidewalk downtown.

Laurel has been cycle commuting for about 13 years in multiple cities including Toronto, Vancouver, and now Prince George, with her trusty steed, Beatrice the Second.

For Bike to Work & School Week (May 27-June 2), we are featuring a number of community members who are champions for cycling, whether it be to work, school, or commuting around town.

Today we’ll meet Laurel Burton, Population Health Dietitian in Prince George.

Why do you bike to work?

So many reasons! But the most important reason is that it’s environmentally sustainable and helps reduce my carbon footprint.

What do you like most about biking?

It’s a great way to fit some physical activity in, and it makes getting active easier!

What do you think your community needs in order to make it easier for more people to bike to work or school?

A strong commitment from local municipality to promoting safer active transportation initiatives and improved active transportation infrastructure; having some roads that are car-free, especially downtown, while still ensuring infrastructure for vehicle parking.

Anything you’d like to share to encourage others to bike?

The best way to encourage people is to create an environment where it’s easier for people to bike. Considering our environment, air quality, etc., and looking for ways to make an impact is important.


Thanks, Laurel, for encouraging us to get out there on our bikes for the benefit of not only our own health, but also the environment!

Join the Bike to Work & School movement! Register today and log at least one ride (I bet you’ll want to ride more!) to win a cycling trip for two in the Prosecco Hills of Italy.

Gloria Fox

About Gloria Fox

Gloria Fox is the Regional Physical Activity Lead for Northern Health’s Population Health team. She is a graduate of the University of Alberta’s faculty of PE & Recreation, and until beginning this role has spent most of her career working as a Recreation Therapist with NH. She has a passion for helping others pursue an optimal leisure lifestyle and quality of life at all stages of their lives. In order to maintain her own health (and sanity), Gloria enjoys many outdoor activities, including hiking, camping, canoeing, and cycling, to name a few. She is a self-proclaimed foodie and her life’s ambition is to see as much of the world as possible.


Foodie Friday: Nature provides


Fiddleheads are one of several edible plants available in our region.

Spring is here. I can feel it. Can you feel it too? The sun is out and I just want to be outside as much as I can. I can’t wait to get my fingers in the earth. I’m excited by the new shoots showing up. This is a great season to learn about the gifts that spring gives to nourish us.

My partner is from the Kitselas First Nation and he has gathered ostrich fern fiddleheads for years. He watches the signs of spring and knows just when and where to find them. It’s quite an art. Without his help, I would probably gather the wrong thing. Last year, we harvested stinging nettle, too. It was so delicious! I could almost taste the nutrients dancing in my mouth. Of course, we had to use thick gloves to pick it and cook it so as to avoid a nasty sting.

Want to try gathering and cooking fiddleheads this spring? Here’s how!

For centuries, First Nations and Aboriginal people have been harvesting plants. This has been an important part of their diet and medicine. Nutritional information shows us that wild plants are often much higher in nutrients than other, store-bought vegetables.


Wild mint is another edible plant available in northern B.C. Check with elders or knowledge holders in your community before heading out to gather!

There are some great resources available on edible plants. The spring is a great opportunity to take one of these books, get outdoors with your family, and enjoy nature’s treasure hunt. I am no expert, so I encourage you to check with elders and knowledge holders in your communities to learn what is safe to gather, when to gather it, and protocols you need to respect and areas you should or shouldn’t gather in. Also, take care not to overharvest and to avoid zones that have been sprayed to avoid environmental contaminants.

Here are some great resources to start you out on your gathering journey:

Victoria Carter

About Victoria Carter

Victoria works in Northern Health's Aboriginal health program as the lead for engagement and integration. She is an adopted member of the Nisga’a nation and was given the name “Nox Aama Goot” which means “mother of good heart.” In her work she sees herself as an ally working together with Aboriginal people across the north to improve access to quality health care. She keeps herself well by honouring the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual aspects of her life through spending time with her friends and family, being in nature and working on her own personal growth.


Unpack your snacks!

Reusable water bottle, lunch bag, and containers on a table.

Can you spot the spork? How do you reduce waste in your lunches, sips, and snacks?

Waste created from food is not a new topic. I’ve been learning about how to be more environmentally friendly since I was a child. I grew up with curbside recycling, we had compost bins in our school lunch rooms and I even buy local when possible, but is that good enough? Nowadays our food comes with so much packaging that it can be hard to avoid. So what’s a concerned citizen to do?

When I have questions like these, I take them to the experts at the Northern Environmental Action Team (NEAT), located in northeast B.C. Karen Mason-Bennett is a program coordinator there and is a wealth of information on all things green!

So why is food packaging is such a problem? According to Karen, it isn’t just the fact that we are creating waste when we eat a packaged food. It also takes a lot of energy to make and ship the packaging before it’s ever used. Not to mention all of the human energy (labour) involved and the fact that many single serving portions tend to require a larger package as well – think individually-wrapped granola bars in a cardboard box!

All of this packaging exists for a reason, however – our own desire for convenience. The demand for these products has gone up as many more people are choosing prepackaged snacks out of convenience and the desire for portion control. We want more value for our time, and being able to spend less time preparing and packing our food is something we’re willing to pay for. Food packaging is also used in some cases to extend the shelf life of a product. For example, cucumbers that are shrink-wrapped in plastic are said to last 20% longer.

An eye-opening exercise to try the next time you go grocery shopping is to remove all of the “extra” packaging from your food as you put grocery items away in your home. How much packaging does it take just to get the food from the shelf to your home? You’ll likely end up with a stack of cardboard boxes and a bundle of plastic wrapping that were completely unnecessary.

But there are easy ways to cut down on this waste! As a mom of 3, Karen is a pro at packing lunches! Here are some of her tips on how to cut back your snack and lunch food waste:

  • Invest in reusable containers in a variety of sizes – then actually use them!
  • Buy packaged products in larger containers and then portion them into your own reusable smaller containers at home.
  • Snack on whole foods – nature has its own packaging!
  • Make leftover suppers into tomorrow’s lunch by packing these in reheatable containers.
  • Can your own preserves like peaches and applesauce in single serving jars.
  • Set a rule for yourself or for children – only one disposable item per lunch.

The important thing Karen wants you to remember is that “being green” is not a destination, it’s a journey. Some packaging is unavoidable, but making small changes in the food products you’re choosing can have a bigger impact. Every item that you reuse one extra time cuts that portion your waste by 50%. Let continual improvement be your goal, rather than environmental sainthood!

For more information on how to reduce your food waste, or to find answers to your burning environmental questions visit NEAT, The Story of Stuff, or Multi Material BC.

Holly Christian

About Holly Christian

Holly Christian is a Regional Lead for Population Health. She has a passion for healthy living and health promotion and is a foodie at heart. Originally from Ontario, she has fully embraced northern living, but enjoys the warmth of the sun and the sound of the ocean. She swims, bikes and runs, and just completed her first marathon.


A healthy environment benefits all!

Booth in the hospital with energy use questions.

Northern Health is committed to reducing energy use and improving efficiency in facilities. How do you conserve energy at home?

British Columbia is one of the most beautiful places on the planet, and we at Northern Health are aware of our impact on the environment. If you have been to Northern Health facilities recently, you might have noticed some of the energy-saving practices we have been implementing and, with the help of all Northern Health staff, we want to continue to be conscientious caretakers of the environment.

Where economically and practically feasible, we are continuing to search for ways to be more environmentally aware. Being considerate of the ecological cost of operations will benefit not only Northern Health as an organization, but also our communities, patients, and staff. The choices we make today impact the long term – and we want to be sure that we can keep enjoying the incredible quality of life here in northern B.C.!

Energy and environmental sustainability

Energy conservation efforts at Northern Health are supported by BC Hydro and FortisBC, both through supporting our energy management team and through incentives for equipment upgrades. The focus is to reduce energy use, reduce operating costs, and improve the efficiency of facilities.

We can see this energy management clearly in renovations and upgrades like lighting changes, boiler improvements, and improved building controls and programs. Energy improvement is also part of the design of new construction projects like the recently-opened Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in Burns Lake.

Northern Health energy performance

The process of improving energy use in facilities typically begins with a detailed energy study. Engineers visit our facilities to review their situation and to propose energy conservation measures.

Since 2011, energy studies have been carried out at 30 facilities across northern B.C.

The biggest overall project, and one of the first, was a massive lighting upgrade across all of Northern Health. All of the incandescent bulbs and old fluorescent fixtures were replaced with more efficient fixtures and bulbs.

Since then, new technology such as LEDs, more efficient boilers, automated dampers, schedules to reduce heating at night in unoccupied areas, motion sensors in offices, and reduced lighting in hallways and stairways continue to be introduced to facilities.

The economic results

With the changes so far, Northern Health has reduced electricity consumption by 10% and natural gas consumption by 15%. This translates as dollars that can be spent on health care instead of energy.

Enough electricity has been saved each year to power more than 500 houses. Annual natural gas savings would provide enough fuel for 10,000 round trips between Prince George and Edmonton in a family-sized sedan.

With the measures we’ve implemented since January 2010, Northern Health has been able to avoid $5 million in energy costs!

What else are we doing?

  • Joining with partners and collaborating with other health authorities to reduce energy usage and implement more sustainable practices.
  • Investigating emerging technologies for possible implementation with Northern Health.
  • Remaining current on environmental trends.
  • Giving preference to using environmentally sensitive products and services.
  • Continuing with Power Smart initiatives like the Continuous Optimization Program.

What can you do?

Northern Health cares about our patients, staff and the natural resources of our beautiful province, and we want to continue to ensure the health of all!

As Northern Health continues to operate as an environmentally-conscientious member of the northern B.C. community, we ask everyone to help us achieve our goals! We want to create a sustainable future and a healthy, happy lifestyle for all, because Northern Health Matters!

Read more about Northern Health’s Green Initiatives.

Les Sluggett

About Les Sluggett

Les Sluggett is Northern Health’s energy manager, which sees him supporting facility managers in Northern Health to explore and understand energy conservation through technologies and programs. His efforts help facilities personnel to be more energy efficient so that patients are comfortable in a reliable and safe environment. In his spare time, Les attends his local YMCA or heads outdoors skiing in the winter and canoeing & travelling in the summer. At home as at work, Les tries to reduce waste and be more energy efficient.


Are cigarette butts socially acceptable?

A cigarette butt lies in the snow.

Just one butt of the millions that affect our environment.

Society’s littering standards have come a long way from being commonplace. Today, throwing garbage on the street or out of a vehicle window is unacceptable and unlawful; however, despite these standards in litter control, one item in particular remains, what seems to be, socially acceptable: cigarette butts.

According to, there are 8000 tonnes of cigarette butts dropped by Canadians each year – the majority within 10 feet of an ashtray.  The next time you take a stroll down a busy street, try to notice the cigarette butts that are all over the ground. These “butts” impact more than the immediate environment: the runoff into rivers, lakes, and streams could ultimately impact drinking water sources and other water habitats as well. Cigarette butts contain toxins that can ultimately leach into the environment and have a detrimental impact on aquatic life.

In addition, consumption of these butts could lead to the death of other mammals by choking. Still, butts are everywhere.

Generally, cigarette butts are composed of plastic (cellulose acetate to be specific). Other forms of plastic tend to biodegrade, but cigarette butts do not or the process of breaking down is extremely slow and can persist in the environment for a long duration.

It takes 10 years for the filter on each of the 52 billion cigarettes smoked annually by five million Canadians to biodegrade, contributing almost 5000 tonnes of pollutants into the atmosphere.  Imagine, 5000 plastic bottles cluttering a busy city street. Of course, that wouldn’t be acceptable by our littering standards, so what makes plastic, toxic cigarette butts acceptable? Now, it’s time we work together to do something about it.

Azreer Gill

About Azreer Gill

Azreer is an Environmental Health Officer at the Terrace Health Unit. He has been residing in the Northwest for over 20 years and loves his local community. Over the course of the four seasons, he enjoys mountain running, paintballing with friends, and firing off rounds at the shooting range in town. Azreer also plans on heading to Europe again in 2014.


The return on investment of green thumb training


What’s your return on investment of gardening?

I grew up in a house of green thumbs so as a young person, I never had to take on any “green” chores – everyone else loved doing it, which meant I was excused by association. My husband and I inherited a yard and a greenhouse when we bought our first house seven years ago, so now I have a yard of my own to maintain (at a minimum) and very few skills to support that task. As such, the learning begins.

My yard has a couple of different gardens, some for flowers and some for vegetables. Mostly, I think of it as chores that the summer brings. However, I am inspired to garden because people tell me it is good for me… and others seem to enjoy it?

On an intellectual level, I understand that if I grow my own food, then I am more connected to the food and have more respect for the food and the environment. People also tell me that being out in nature is a healthy thing to do. I get that, but I question the return on investment of my timed… after all, it just seems like a dirty chore. That being said, I am giving it the old college try.

As I dig in the dirt some nights after work, I think about what I am doing. I am digging in the earth and I couldn’t grow healthy plants if the dirt isn’t healthy. The plants won’t be healthy if the air isn’t healthy and it isn’t given enough water. Then, I get to thinking about the meaning in that. If we are what we eat, I want to be healthy and grown in an environment that supports health. I think I am starting to see the connection and the return on investment doesn’t seem that bad. And, it turns out, getting dirty is kind of fun!

What’s your return on investment of gardening?

Chelan Zirul

About Chelan Zirul

Chelan Zirul is the Regional Manager for Health Promotions and Community Engagement for Northern Health. As a graduate from UNBC, she did her Master's of Arts in Natural Resources and Environmental Studies. She explored regional development decision-making and is an advocate for policy that is appropriate for the needs of northerners. This, combined with her personal interest in health and wellness, drew her to work in health communications. Born in northern B.C., she takes advantage of the access to outdoor living. She enjoys hunting and exploring the backcountry with her dog and husband and enjoys finding ways to use local foods.