By Eco Network Co-convenor Grant Brookes
Pressure is mounting on District Health Boards to become more environmentally sustainable. It might not be top of mind for people when they’re needing care from our hospital and health services, or even for some health workers, but the case for change is clear – and the PSA Eco Network has been helping to make it. Health is the largest emitter of carbon emissions in New Zealand’s public sector. It is estimated that healthcare services contribute between 3% and 8% of New Zealand’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
DHBs are also major consumers of renewable and non-renewable resources and create very large waste streams. A survey of seven DHBs in 2018-19 found that they generated around 1,600 tonnes per year on average. The Covid-19 pandemic has made the problem worse. Globally, 3.4 billion single-use face masks/face shields are discarded every day.
The environmental impacts of DHBs negatively affect the health of their communities, especially the health of disadvantaged groups who are already experiencing poorer health. This was recognised early by a few DHBs, like Northland, Waitematā, Hawkes Bay, Capital & Coast and Counties Manukau, which began measuring and reducing their carbon emissions as far back as 2011. But demands are growing for all DHBs to reduce their environmental footprint – from the public, from professional organisations like OraTaiao NZ Climate and Health Council, from health workers and networks of “green champions” inside DHBs, from our unions and from Government.
Environmental sustainability, including reducing carbon emissions, was added to the Health Minister’s letter of expectations for DHB Chairs in 2018/19 and strengthened in his letter of expectations in 2019/20. This year, annual planning guidance from the Ministry of Health reminds DHBs they’re part of the Carbon Neutral Government Programme, which aims for a zero carbon public sector by 2025, and that they are required to start measuring and publicly reporting their emissions from next year.
As a result, the pace of change is accelerating. The new Taranaki Base Hospital, currently under construction, will be the first Green Star certified hospital building in the country when it opens in late 2023. By then, around 44 tonnes of soft plastic waste from Taranaki’s hospitals will be going each year to be recycled into fence posts. Northland DHB is introducing 150 electric vehicles and installing charging infrastructure. Canterbury DHB will replace its current coal-fired boilers with two new biomass boilers in early 2022.
As well as these projects, some DHBs have recently adopted new long-term sustainability strategies. In June, Bay of Plenty DHB published its Kaitiakitanga Caring for People and Planet – A Framework for Environmental Sustainability. And in September, three Lower North Island DHBs (Capital & Coast, Hutt Valley and Wairarapa) adopted their new 3DHB Sustainability Strategy.
PSA Eco Network members contributed to that strategy, both through the CCDHB Green Champions group and in a formal submission seeking a more far-reaching vision. We have published our submission, sharing our ideas for other PSA members and health workers who might want to contribute to sustainability strategies in their DHB. And we are very keen to hear from any other Eco Network members who are active in this space. Please email us.
• First published (lightly edited) the Eco Network newsletter, 3 November 2021