Talk of going green: An overview of the fourth Greening the Healthcare Sector Think Tank

Thursday, December 17, 2015

The increasing burden of climate change on health service delivery, and ways the health sector can adapt to meet the challenge and reduce its own carbon footprint, were the centre of discussion at the fourth annual Greening the Healthcare Sector Think Tank on 20 November 2015 at Western Health’s Footscray Hospital in Melbourne.

More than 40 health sector leaders actively engaged in the Think Tank, which featured a line-up of inspiring speakers and discussion panels followed by an afternoon of stimulating discussion based on Open Space Technology.

Keynote speaker Paul Holman, from Ambulance Victoria, had a clear message about the health impacts of climate change: heat kills. Mr Holman’s experience of coping with increased demand on ambulance services provided an insight into the need for health and emergency services, communities and government to prepare for heatwaves. The 2009 heatwaves that preceded the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria amounted to Australia’s biggest natural disaster in terms of lives lost—with 374 additional deaths, a 34- fold increase in heat-related presentation to hospitals, a 2.8-fold increase in cardiac arrests and drastically reduced rates of successful resuscitation. Ambulance Victoria is now proactively educating communities about the risks heat poses to health and the delivery of health services.

Australian Health Design Council Chair Jane Carthey spoke of the successes and challenges of embedding sustainability in healthcare design. Ms Carthey highlighted the difficulties posed by having different costs centres for design, infrastructure and operations in health budgets in Australian states and territories, and she advocated for the need to link capital and operational budgets in order to get better financial outcomes in terms of implementing energy-efficient designs. Green building design can deliver medium and long-term savings, but with separate agencies and separate budgets, there is little incentive in upfront sustainability investments. Sustainability must be a higher order priority in healthcare design, according to Ms Carthey. She urged health leaders to step forward and challenge the “business as usual” paradigms.

A session on engaging for behaviour change for sustainability offered insights, experiences and lessons on how to engage people effectively in ongoing and meaningful commitments to sustainable actions. Practical examples included the implementation of recycling initiatives at Monash Health, the establishment of a green group at Alfred Health in Victoria and the embedding of sustainability and climate change in the revised undergraduate nursing curriculum at Monash University. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service School for Health and Care Radicals was cited as a positive example of how to drive change, as well as an example of the value of being able to influence others through a network.

The afternoon sessions of the Think Tank were given over to participant-generated mini-workshops using a discussion “technology” based on Open Space Technology. Participants were invited to pitch an idea to the group for a workshop, discussion or skill-share that they would offer to lead with a group. Three pitches resulted in three energetic discussions convened. Bronwyn Alymer, from Barwon Health, spoke on reducing waste to landfill. Barwon Health has reduced its waste to landfill by almost 40%.

Matt Power, of St Vincent’s Health, pitched an idea to cut energy use. He suggested instituting an energy efficiency plan that would save millions of dollars annually and avoid the production of millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide.

A trio including Aileen Thoms from Koowerup Regional Health, Libby Muir from the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation Victoria Branch, and Janet Roden from the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association, co-convened a group on engaging nurses and midwives in sustainability in healthcare initiatives. Given this huge workforce and multiple examples of leadership from nurses on sustainability projects, this discussion sought to explore how more nurses and midwives could be engaged and empowered to take action in their workplaces and communities.

Outcomes from the final session included the establishment of a working group on engaging nurses and midwives; ideas for a Webinar on cutting energy use in health services; and the establishment of a Google Group for Think Tank attendees not already part of the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Connect platform to stay in touch, share resources and ideas, and seek information.

To be part of the #GreenHealth Google group, or to join the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals network, contact Chris Hill (CAHA Sustainable Healthcare Project Officer) at chris.hill@caha.org.au and Krister Partel, (AHHA Advocacy Director) at kpartel@ahha.asn.au.

This article was written for the December 2015 edition of The Health Advocate. To access the current edition and past editions, click here.