Open Forum: South East Queensland’s green beacon in health care

The innovative design of the public hospital, which features large outdoor rooms and courtyards that run down the middle of the hospital, is expected to vastly improve patient outcomes and enhance the wellbeing of staff,  write DEA medical student members Kaiya Ferguson (2018 National Student Representative) and Edward Stois.
Global research since the 1980s has demonstrated that spending quality time in green space contributes to enhanced mood, lower levels of anxiety and stress, and lower levels of depression. This is best captured in Beyond Blue’s report in 2010 entitled Beyond Blue to Green.
Setting a new benchmark for sustainability in building design is one step in the process of greening hospitals and will also minimise its environmental impact
SCUH’s key sustainability features include the installation of the largest commercial use organic response lighting systems in Australia, automatically adjusting lights in unoccupied or naturally lit areas to significantly reduce carbon emissions.
Other features include the orientation of the building to the sun, as well as the passive solar protection, 50,000 kilowatt hours (Kwh) of thermal energy storage, solar hot water and LED car park lighting, coupled with 20 electric charge stations and 139 electric ready car parks.
Rainwater will be harvested from approximately 80 percent of the entire roof space of the facility, with 90 percent of water collected reused for heat rejection and irrigation systems. The condensate water reclamation system, harvests and reuses approximately 19 million litres of water per annum from mechanical systems.
It is predicted that the building features will reduce energy consumption by 20-40%. These reductions are essential as currently the healthcare sector accounts for 7% of Australia’s overall carbon emissions, with public hospitals as the primary contributor.
Energy and water use, transport, and prolific waste production from single-use plastics and non-recyclable items all contribute to our carbon footprint and have environmental trade-offs. These trade-offs include increased reliance on fossil fuels, the burning of which is the most significant contributor to global warming.
Rising global temperature has a significant impact on the health of citizens, both locally and globally. As the recent UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report highlighted, even half a degree beyond 1.5 C of warming significantly worsens the risk of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.
Cumulatively, environmental factors, such as air pollution, extreme temperatures, and land use, are estimated to account for 23% of deaths and 22% of the global burden of disease from all causes.
The healthcare sector must strive for environmental stewardship as a part of our efforts in the primary prevention of disease. Not only is this advantageous for health, there are significant benefits for hospitals.
Green systems lower operational costs, improve patient experience, public perception and foster staff community.  Strategies to green healthcare are diverse, ranging from improved energy efficiency and clean energy transition, to waste reduction and disposal methods.
In the US, the Houston Memorial Hermann health service saved $76 million over 5 years through sustainability strategies.
Reducing waste and water usage can also make a vast impact to a hospital’s greenhouse gas contribution and community water supply.
The Mater Hospital in Brisbane achieved a 34% reduction in water consumption per occupied bed days through sustainability measures. The Mater has also saved more than 185 tonnes of clinical waste since 2011/12 and has seen an increase in recycling of more than 142 tonnes since 2010/2011. Through the exploration of over 190 sustainability initiatives, The Mater Hospital has saved over $2.3m since 2008.
The hospital sector must work to promote public health by continuously reducing its environmental impact. Through this, we can eliminate our contribution to the burden of disease.
Hospitals can take steps towards this by joining the Global Green and Health Hospitals network and undertaking sustainability initiatives.
For more information, check out this site on health systems and download the DEA Sustainable Hospitals Guide.

This article was written by Edward Stois and Kaiya Ferguson. They are both medical students and members of Doctors for the Environment Australia.

First published in Open Forum on 23 October 2018

Image credit: Pixabay

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