The road to net zero emissions in health care

Schneider Electric

By Abe Fitzsimons, Healthcare Segment Lead, Pacific Zone at Schneider Electric
Monday, 21 March, 2022


The road to net zero emissions in health care

Health care will face substantial challenges transitioning to a net zero future, but those challenges must be faced sooner rather than later.

Australia’s healthcare industry contributes about 7% of total greenhouse gas emissions — representing 35,772 kilotonnes of CO2 — with the majority embedded in supply chains. With this significant impact, we need a concerted and collective sector-wide effort to abate emissions.

Embracing an energy transition means change, but adapting will have a myriad of advantages, creating more efficient, digitised, greener facilities with benefits for both clients and climate.

I recently hosted an industry webinar, ‘Harnessing innovation: the road to net zero emissions in Australian healthcare facilities’. I was heartened that half the participants had set net zero by 2050 targets, and we heard how the Climate and Health Alliance is building collaboration across the sector towards eliminating emissions.

As the Alliance’s Fiona Armstrong said, the sector must recognise that climate change is the biggest current threat to global health, threatening our existence as a species. However, the fact the other half of the webinar audience was yet to set net zero targets demonstrates that many in the sector must begin moving more quickly.

Setting 2050 targets is a good start, but it is the trajectory that counts if we are to get ahead of the curve and keep global warming below 1.5 degrees.

Core to the solution are digitalisation and electrification. Decisions to digitise and move away from fossil fuels should be embraced now by every healthcare organisation.

These decisions can result in immediate wins for the climate. Technology exists today to facilitate them, with solar PV, increasingly advanced batteries, electric vehicles and digital monitoring.

Our ability to reduce energy consumption is limited by a lack of information, which can be addressed by digital technology. The internet-enabled interconnectivity of our power systems, heating and cooling systems, appliances and machinery can now be monitored and controlled.

Gas use in hospitals must be supplanted by electricity, renewably generated electricity. Shifting away from fossil fuel-driven electrical sources, smart facilities can find alternative, cleaner ways to procure electricity needed to power healthcare facilities. They can generate their own solar power or enter into power purchasing agreements for renewable energy.

Electrification will also facilitate digitalisation, allowing facilities to leverage the Internet of Things to connect multiple systems and aggregate data to create a digital model of the facility and its assets.

In practice, this will translate into streamlined solution design that is based on real-time monitoring and data-driven decision-making, enabling more efficient energy management.

As a result, a multitude of benefits can be expected: lower energy and maintenance costs, less downtime, better patient experiences, and improved staff safety and satisfaction. Ultimately, we will see reduced energy consumption and fewer carbon emissions.

These processes can easily be embedded into plans for new facilities, but quick gains can be made today by retrofitting existing ones. A digitally controlled and connected energy system can reduce energy usage in most facilities by around 20%.

I see the future of health care built in a system that is driven by data, with proactive, actionable insights key to improving operational efficiencies and patient care. This data is also crucial to improving our contribution to combating climate change.

Knowledge must be shared across the sector, encouraging and educating suppliers to join the journey to net zero.

The healthcare industry as a whole must become even more client and climate conscious, collectively striving for net zero emissions, not just within a facility but across its supply chain, and play its part in abating the biggest global health crisis of this century.

Image credit: ©stock.adobe.com/au/khanchit

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