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Greens announce Health Sustainability Unit policy

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Media Release     30/08/2013    

Greens announce Health Sustainability Unit policy     Australian Greens health spokesperson, Senator Richard Di Natale, today announced the  Greens policy for a Health Sustainability Unit that would help bring down the  environmental footprint of the healthcare sector.     “Climate change presents one of the greatest threats to human health in the modern  world so it makes no sense for our healthcare sy stem to be such a big contributor to the  progress of climate change,” said Senator Di Natale.     “Running a hospital can require a lot of energy because a hospital never powers down.  But experience from other countries has shown us that the carbon footprint of our  healthcare system can be greatly reduced, as ca n its energy bill.     “Today I’m announcing the Greens policy to establish a Health Sustainability Unit that  would engage with the healthcare sector, provide expert advice and help to coordinate  reform.     “This policy is modelled from the NHS Sustainable Development Unit in the UK, which  has been very successful in helping hospitals to drive down their en

ergy consumption 

and their power bills.     “The Health Sustainability Unit would be funded for 5 years at a total cost of $5.5 million  but we know from the UK experience that it would generate a much larger saving for  the healthcare system ov

er the life of the program. 

   “This policy is a complete no‐brainer. We’re not really caring for the health of people if  we’re not taking a long‐term view and also caring for the health of the climate.”     Media Contact:                 Andrew Blyberg - 0457 901 600 

Printed and authorised by Senator Christine Milne, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600. Page 1 of 2

The Australian healthcare sector is a big consumer of resources and producer of waste. In spite of the Government’s commitment to tackle climate change, there is still no co-ordinated effort to reduce the environmental impact of the healthcare sector or to embrace the financial savings available through improved sustainability.

> MAKING OUR HEALTH SECTOR MORE SUSTAINABLE A sustainable health and care system is achieved by delivering high quality care and improved public health without exhausting natural resources or causing severe ecological damage.

The Health Sustainability Unit will:

• Deliver leadership to help drive behaviour change and co-ordinate the sector’s efforts to improve sustainability outcomes.

• Provide expert advice and support to the healthcare sector in Australia to become more sustainable by addressing issues such as energy, travel, waste, procurement, water, infrastructure adaptation and buildings.

• Scope and map the sustainable development requirements of the Australian health sector to better understand the existing situation, identify opportunities to embed sustainability into healthcare practices and identify further research needs.

• Engage with the health sector to develop a broad sustainability strategy to deliver ongoing sustainability, through improved resource efficiency, greener facilities and better practices.


Some Australian health departments and services have taken action to reduce their environmental impact but activities are fragmented and lack strategic direction.

The Health Sustainability Unit will deliver a co-ordinated approach to maximise the social, environmental and financial benefits of improved sustainability.

Based in the Department of Health and Ageing, the Health Sustainability Unit will be a policy, training and engagement unit focusing on organisational and professional changes that reduce carbon emissions within the Australian health system and would link and coordinate activities across jurisdictions.

In England, the National Health Service (NHS) is responsible for approximately 25% of all public sector emissions, while in Australia, the carbon emissions of the health sector remain unmeasured. In 2008, the NHS established a Sustainable Development Unit to help the NHS become a leading, low-carbon, sustainable organisation; and it has quickly delivered financial, social and environmental benefits. The Health Sustainability Unit would be based on the NHS model.


Hospitals generate significant environmental health impacts both upstream and downstream from service delivery, through the natural resources and products they consume, as well as through the waste they generate. Today’s health leaders have started to evolve the Hippocratic Oath of “First Do No Harm” beyond the immediacy of the doctor-patient relationship to incorporate a broader vision of environmental health.

HEALTHIER, WEALTHIER, WISER GREENING THE HEALTH SECTOR The Greens plan for a Health Sustainability Unit

Climate change is a threat to both our health and our quality of life. Australia enjoys a high level of healthcare but it can come at a high environmental cost. Dangerous climate change cannot be avoided without the health sector playing its part to reduce pollution and waste.

Printed and authorised by Senator Christine Milne, Parliament House Canberra ACT 2600. Page 2 of 2

Health networks worldwide are beginning to work together to deliver healthcare sectors which recognise the connection between human health and the environment, and demonstrate that understanding through their governance strategies and operations.

The Health Sustainability Unit will help the healthcare sector realise the potential savings of smarter and more efficient environmental solutions to everyday problems from building services through to procurement.

By helping organisations to develop sustainable management plans, conduct audits on energy, procurement and waste, and invest in their staff through education and training, the Health Sustainability Unit will help organisations reap financial and environmental savings across the health sector.


The NHS Sustainable Development Unit developed advice for healthcare providers around running their electrical equipment at optimal voltages. Since employing this advice, the following savings have been made:

Sheffield Teaching Hospital is reducing its energy consumption by more than 8% and emissions by 239 tonnes, while saving £45,000 a year.

Norfolk and Suffolk Healthcare Trust is currently reducing its average energy consumption by more than 11% saving 163 tonnes of CO2 per year and more than £23,000.


The Greens are proposing the creation of a Health Sustainability Unit to help guide the Australian health sector towards sustainable health care. It would be a national intelligence unit, carrying out research, producing tools and guides, promoting sustainability, facilitating networking and influencing policy.

The proposed unit would be located within the Department of Health and Ageing and, based on the NHS Sustainable Development Unit, would consist of a small team of around 7 employees. Their first tasks would be:

1) A national consultation with health sector bodies 2) Measuring the carbon and resource footprint of Australian health services 3) Developing a strategy to minimise the environmental

impact of the Australian healthcare sector.

The proposed Health Sustainability Unit has been costed by the Parliamentary Budget Office at $1.1 million per annum. The Greens propose that the Unit initially be funded for 5 years after which time the success of the program would be assessed. This results in an overall cost of $5.5 million, $3.3 million over the forward estimates.

Based on the experiences of the NHS model, the Health Sustainability Unit is expected to generate financial savings across the Australian healthcare sector in excess of funding requirements over the life of the program.