Greening the health sector – Expert Reaction

The Government has released a new guide for making our health sector more sustainable.

The health sector currently contributes between three and eight per cent of New Zealand’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to Associate Health Minister Julie Anne Genter, who released the health sector sustainability report today.

It examines ways in which the sector can reduce its carbon footprint, like cutting back on meat and dairy, reducing waste, designing energy-efficient buildings and encouraging biking and walking.

The SMC asked experts to comment on the report.

Dr David Galler, intensive care specialist, Counties Manukau District Health Board, and member of the Sustainable Health Sector National Network, comments:

“In the health sector, all actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions convey a health co-benefit to individuals, families and communities.

“The report highlights the work of a few DHBs with fulltime Sustainability Managers/Officers. It is evident that those DHBs who have fulltime dedicated staff have been much more successful in reducing their greenhouse gas emissions than those that do not.

“Those DHBs without dedicated staff could also realise substantial savings and opportunity through appointing dedicated staff.

“Working more closely together with assistance from agencies like the Health Quality & Safety Commission will allow the DHB sector to rapidly accelerate its gains in improving health and well being, and addressing inequities.

“Setting clear expectations around the construction of healthcare facilities to a defined standard, such as those certified as Green Star 5 or 6, can reduce the contribution of greenhouse gas emissions that arise from buildings, operational costs of buildings and improve the wellbeing of patients and staff.

“Green Star Design won’t necessarily incur an additional capital cost. This new approach to investment in hospital infrastructure would substantially differ from what has historically been a single-minded obsession with short term costs – aka value for money. This new approach will redefine value in terms of longer-term carbon, social, and health outcomes against dollar opportunities and costs.”I look forward to seeing how these recommendations are actioned by district health boards and how the Ministry of Health responds to them.

“I also look forward to working closely alongside DHBs and with Ministry officials to develop building standards, climate change adaptation plans, establish a National Sustainability Unit and improve efforts to engage all DHBs in this work to accelerate our ability to reduce carbon and improve the health and wellbeing of our people.”

No conflict of interest declared.

Dr Alex Macmillan, co-convenor, OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council, comments:

“I welcome the report, including its thoroughness for considering climate emissions of the health sector.

“There is an ethical imperative that the health sector reduces its climate pollution, which comes back to harm since a fundamental tenet of medicine is to ‘first, do no harm’.

“There are a number of other reasons for health sector leadership, including often being the largest employer in a city and the potential to influence supply chains, local government and national policy across sectors.

“The Ministry will now have to move quite quickly from providing guidance and case studies to requiring DHBs to measure, report, and take action to reduce emissions.”

Conflict of interest: I receive funding from the Health Research Council and MBIE for research in the area of climate change mitigation policies and health in the transport sector. I have a voluntary role as the co-convenor of OraTaiao: NZ Climate & Health Council, a not-for-profit incorporated society of health professionals advocating for healthy climate policy and action.