Key messages

  • Healthcare services emit high levels of carbon due to the nature of their activities.
  • Research indicates that up to 60 per cent of a health service’s total carbon footprint is related to the embodied carbon within the goods and services it uses every day.

Healthcare services emit high levels of carbon dioxide due to the nature of their activities, through:

  • procurement of goods and services
  • energy use
  • transport of staff, visitors, patients and suppliers
  • generation of waste.

Research undertaken by the Department of Health & Human Services is consistent with overseas studies. It indicates that up to 60 per cent of a health service’s total carbon footprint is related to the embodied carbon within the goods and services it uses every day.

Carbon management principles

The Victorian Environment Protection Authority (EPA) has developed carbon management principles to provide a step-by-step framework that organisations can use to drive good environmental and business outcomes.

EPA Flowchart

(Source: Environment Protection Authority Victoria (EPA), 'Carbon management at work')

The principles reflect a continuous improvement model with the following steps.

  • Measure
  • Set objectives
  • Avoid
  • Reduce
  • Switch
  • Sequester
  • Assess
  • Offset.

The EPA has a suite of carbon management resources that health services can use to address each step and manage carbon emissions effectively.

Public healthcare services ecological footprint

An ecological footprint measures human demand on the planet’s ecosystems by comparing this demand with the planet’s ecological capacity to regenerate.

In 2009, studies were undertaken to create a baseline for estimating the environmental impact of the Victorian public healthcare system, resulting in an ecological footprint summary.

During 2007-08:

  • The Victorian public healthcare system generated 1,180 kilotonnes of greenhouse gases, representing approximately 1 per cent of Victoria’s total emissions.
  • The ecological footprint of Victoria’s public healthcare services is estimated to be 1,021,606 global hectares, which is approximately 2.8 per cent of Victoria’s total ecological footprint of 36,480,640 global hectares.
  • Of the total carbon footprint created by the Victorian public healthcare system, approximately 57 per cent was related to procurement, 20 per cent to stationary energy, 11.1 per cent to travel and 10 per cent to waste.

A similar ecological footprint study was also undertaken by the National Health Service (NHS) in the United Kingdom.

Wards and surgery areas

Victorian public hospitals account for around half of the Victorian Government’s direct carbon emissions. Within public hospitals, wards and surgery areas are generally the most carbon-intense areas.

Ward areas have the highest energy use of all functional areas, at close to 50 per cent above the average. This is largely due to their continuous operation and hot-water energy requirements (17 times that of other areas). Surgery has the second highest energy use, at just below the average energy use.

These figures are intended as a guide only. Actual results may vary depending on area definitions, equipment, load and operational profile.

Transport

Healthcare facilities generate high volumes of traffic, including staff, patients, visitors and suppliers. Research undertaken by the UK National Health Service shows that one in five of all vehicle trips in the UK is related to the healthcare sector.

The ecological footprint study found that around 11 per cent of a health service’s carbon footprint is related to transport, with the majority of this relating to staff commuting.

Waste

Waste in landfills generates greenhouse gases when it decomposes, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions if not captured for secondary use.

Contact details

  • Sustainability Unit, Victorian Health and Human Services Building Authority

    Department of Health & Human Services

    For advice and support about environmental sustainability in healthcare provision.