We can’t have healthy people on a sick planet – doing our bit for the environment

Posted by Geraint Martin on 27 November 2014 |

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Geraint Martin

I’ve worked in the health system for many years and for a period of time environmental sustainability wasn’t foremost in my mind. What I’ve come to understand, during my time as CEO, is the impact the healthcare sector has on our environment. I’m also more aware that the amount of waste, energy, water, medical gas and even our food system is a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. So what is a Greenhouse Gas (GHG)? While not a simple question to answer a greenhouse gas refers to the gasses in the atmosphere that trap heat. While we need a certain amount of greenhouse gases to keep our planet from freezing over, too much can lead to global warming.

CO2Carbon dioxide (CO2) is the greenhouse gas you hear people talk about the most. That’s because it is the primary gas emitted through human activity. Three years ago we set ourselves the ambitious target of reducing our carbon footprint by 20% by 2017.

By measuring our footprint and putting in place programmes aimed at reducing overall environmental impact we are staring to make some good progress.

One example is the work taking place in theatres, who are adopting some environmentally sustainable practices.

recycling theatre

Theatre staff are doing their bit for the environment

To provide some background – our operating theatres account for around 30% of all hospital waste – that’s 1,670 tonnes of waste a year, 55,660 wheelie bins or 6,700 elephants by weight.

Realising that a large part of this waste is recyclable, the theatre team formed a group to look at how they could contribute to the huge problem of greenhouse gasses.

A new waste segregation system was trialled at the end of last year, resulting in just one theatre being able to divert 100kg of waste from landfill each week. That’s an amazing result.

What’s also interesting to note is that the waste being diverted includes huge amounts of packaging used in sterile supplies – mostly soft packaging, with some glass, aluminium and hard plastic. The next step in the sustainable journey is looking at the production and packaging of these supplies.

There are many other activities and initiatives being driven by the sustainability programme.

For example last year we recycled 32 tonnes of paper and in the coming months the Engineering team will be installing more LED lighting for areas which require lights 24/7. This will help reduce our energy consumption. Carpooling has become very popular and more people are choosing to catch public transport to and from work. This means less cars on the road and improved air quality around the hospital.

Another greenhouse gas being looked at is nitrous oxide or laughing gas, mainly used by mothers giving birth. Nitrous oxide is almost 300 times more potent than CO2. Clinicians are beginning to look at other options which help ease the pain associated with birthing without harming the environment. As a result its use has dropped from 1,600 to 1,300 tonnes of CO2 over the last couple of years saving 300 tonnes of CO2 – that’s equivalent to 70 cars permanently off the road.

As we continue on our journey we hope to improve the way we work, save money, and reduce the impact we have on our planet. The success of the sustainability programme at Counties Manukau Health hinges on each person being involved and doing his or her bit. When many small acts are multiplied, by many thousands we can all make a real difference in the world.

For further information about the sustainability programme and how you can contribute, go to the website

If you would like to share your sustainability ideas, I would love to hear from you. Just send me an email via Geraint.Martin@middlemore.co.nz