Sustainability at Western Health - A strategic plan
Western Health is leading the way as it maps another chapter of its journey towards improved environmental sustainability. A key strategic pillar in its new Strategic Plan (2015 – 2020) is ‘operating sustainably in accordance with our social, environmental and economic responsibilities’. Western Health’s objective is to be a leading health service in environmental sustainability over the next five years. Some of the ways Western Health has been demonstrating this in recent years follows.
In 2009 this journey was kick started by taking on an Environmental Sustainability Officer and taking some easy wins to improve the energy and water efficiency of their older infrastructure and waste reduction projects. However, more recently, Western Health has an increasing appetite to demonstrate leadership on environmental issues in healthcare where there is any opportunity to ‘do the right thing’.
Western Health currently leads the way on environmental research in healthcare, thanks to leadership and research provided by clinical champion, Dr. Forbes McGain, Anaesthetist and ICU physician. Topics of research include energy efficiency, waste and recycling, life cycle analysis (LCA) of hospital products and reducing energy associated with specific healthcare equipment and buildings.
For example, research into the use of sterilisers in the CSSD Department has enabled rotationally switching off one machine to reduce the energy impact of operations by an equivalent of 10 regular suburban homes each year. Single use dressing trays have been compared to their reusable counterpart, as have other reusable items and regular waste auditing of ICU and critical care services have revealed opportunities to recycle more.
Such research enables decision-makers to make informed decisions on critical issues that can help to minimise the environmental impact of healthcare. In fact, without such enquiry such decisions invariably default to a purely financial perspective, thereby externalising social and environmental impacts.
Local Sustainability Action Plans (LSAPs)
Local Sustainability Action Plans (LSAP) are a key strategy in delivering outcomes within Western Health’s Environmental Management Roadmap 2015 - 2020. LSAPs are developed in collaboration with Departments and Clinical Areas to identify distinct opportunities. Local knowledge (Ward; Department) is actively bridged by research and support (Sustainability Officer) to make well-rounded plans aimed at improving environmental outcomes for the whole of Western Health.
The Local Sustainability Action Planning process also offers staff with a sincere interest in environmental issues, the chance to engage in organisational objectives. An increasing number of clinicians arrive at Western Health looking for support for their ideas to improve environmental outcomes. Some are affiliated with organisations such as Doctors for the Environment, looking to make some real contribution. There is little doubt that facilitated expression of such environmental sensibility increases job satisfaction and retention of these valuable staff.
Western Health employed an Environmental Sustainability Officer in 2011, which enabled it to take environmental issues in healthcare more seriously. Governance now exists in the form of a Sustainability Committee which formulates environmental management strategies and delivers reporting compliances. This team is also able to inform product procurement, tenders, education, patient/staff queries and capital development opportunities.
Since 2009, diversion of waste from landfill has risen by more than 35%. Western Health has an active waste minimisation program, having piloted and rolled out more than a dozen recycling programs in this time. ‘Reuse’ begins with the donation of items able to be extended in their useful life to Rotary International’s Donations in Kind Program. This partnership sees medical equipment and consumables placed in areas of third world need via the fundraising and volunteer efforts of Rotary International to cover the logistics of moving them on. An internal ‘overruns’ program initiated by theatre staff also sees excessive reusable consumables packaged from the Operating Theatres and sent overseas with volunteer doctors for various disaster relief.
Recycling streams include bottles, cans, plastics (hard, soft, PVC, polypropylene or sterile wrap), metals (general, aluminium foil, and PVC coated copper cabling), mattresses, batteries, e-waste, printer and toner cartridges, mobile phones, organic waste, single use metal instruments and construction waste.
Medical PVC Recycling
One of the projects that has set Western Health apart from other public hospitals acting in this space is the collaborative development of a PVC Recovery in Hospitals Program with the Vinyl Council of Australia and Baxter Healthcare. The recycling program collects specific medical PVC items (face masks, irrigation bags and oxygen tubing) for recycling at a local PVC hose manufacturer, thereby redirecting them from landfill to feedstock for the manufacturing process.
Face masks, irrigation bags and oxygen tubing are recycled in the PVC Recovery in Hospitals Program.
The collaborative, active since 2009, has led to the creation of several practical online resources that will help other health services to implement this program too. Several short films, fact sheets, FAQs and contacts for support are available to support staff taking up the challenge to lessen the impact of healthcare on the environment. The Program has spread to home dialysis patients and is currently operating in (24 hospitals) throughout Asia Pacific and several others worldwide.
Benefits of the program include:
- Lower waste disposal costs for hospitals
- Recovery of valuable resources and diversion of waste from landfill
- Lower carbon footprint of PVC products - recycled PVC has one-sixth the carbon footprint of virgin resin
- Additional benefit that other co-mingled polyolefin plastics waste can be recovered and recycled more easily.
Resources are available via the Vinyl Council of Australia and Baxter Healthcare. ‘Closed loop’ recycling programs such as these are the holy grail of industrial ecology because they extend the useful life of extracted resources (PVC) as they circulate through industrial systems, thereby reducing the impact on the environment, natural resources and issues associated with waste disposal. Medical PVC is of high grade and value as a feedstock to industry because it is non-coloured. Two products currently made from this medical post-consumer PVC are garden hosing and kiddy play mats.
“...(research has enabled) rotationally switching off one machine to reduce the energy impact of operations by an equivalent of 10 regular suburban homes each year.”
Sustainability Officer, Western Health
Catherine O’Shea has been the Sustainability Officer at Western Health since 2011. During this time she has created systems of governance for environmental stewardship within the organisation and commenced a broader dialogue with other healthcare networks to discover ways to reduce the impact of healthcare on the environment. With 20 years nursing experience prior to completing a Masters in Environment and Sustainability at Monash University, Catherine brings an understanding of issues pertinent to healthcare and the natural environment. She has now spent more than 10 years in project work under the banner of environmental sustainability and is passionate about broadening the dialogue around ‘care’ for patients to encompass our natural environment.
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