After the disastrous 2019-20 bushfire season and recent flooding in NSW, Australia’s nurses and midwives know all too well that climate disaster creates a significant health burden.
Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH), a project that aims to address sustainability and waste in clinical health settings, was founded by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) in 2012.
The Climate and Health Alliance (CAHA) coordinates the GGHH Pacific region of the project, which includes Australia, which spans nearly 2,200 clinical settings and 124 member organisations,
According to Nick Thorp, the Network Director of the GGHH project, the idea for the program emerged after HCWH noticed that many hospitals were beginning to take their own initiative in the space, and wanted to coordinate a community that shared information and resources about sustainable healthcare work practices.
“As the climate crisis gets worse, as sustainability becomes more popular and more important, we really see the healthcare sector stepping up and recognising the role that they need to play to clean up their own house, but also the role that they can play to advocate for broader change,” Mr Thorp says.
“It’s really exciting to see the work… continue to grow.”
So how do the global aims of the project positively affect the workplaces of nurses and midwives in Australia? The ANMJ spoke to Mr Thorp and Stefanie Carino, Sustainable Healthcare Program Manager at CAHA, to learn more about the global aims and local actions of the GGHH.
Mr Thorp, based in the United States, has an extensive remit as part of his role. His work corresponds with more than 1,600 organisations across 78 countries, with a host of smaller organisations like CAHA and HCWH’s own regional offices executing GGHH’s objectives internationally.
Those objectives are primarily derived from a 10-point list of goals that cover areas such as “Leadership”, “Energy”, “Transportation”, “Purchasing”, and other points of concern specific to hospitals and healthcare.
As Mr Thorp notes, the broadness of the goals allows HCWH’s regional offices in Europe and South East Asia and partners like CAHA to tailor their goals to a local context.
“We very much work in collaboration with one another,” Mr Thorp explains, adding that regional offices and organisers are encouraged to adapt to their own circumstances but also provide feedback that informs GGHH policy.
“We want to try and do these [projects] as globally as possible… but also allowing the freedom and flexibility for that to be customised as it hits the ground.”
Mr Thorp says CAHA’s work as a Pacific partner is a good example of this as it draws upon its local presence and GGHH’s resources as part of its remit. Additionally, it provides global case studies, policy guidance, data and other webinars to educate member organisations on how to make change.
It also works specifically to connect Pacific members through online and in-person discussion, facilitating collaboration.
As a result of this work, Stefanie Carino says that many Australian health organisations within the GGHH Pacific network have taken significant action in the “absence of federal leadership over the past decade,” setting “clear emission reduction targets” for their workplaces and modelling positive behaviour.
“NSW Health has committed to halving emissions in healthcare by 2030; the ACT Department of Health has committed to net zero by 2040; UnitingCare has committed to a 75% cut in emissions by 2025… [and] Ambulance Victoria has committed to net zero by 2045,” CAHA’s Sustainable Healthcare Program Manager says.
In addition to the NSW and ACT Health Departments, CAHA also counts WA, Victoria and Queensland’s Health Departments as members of GGHH, meaning GGHH tools and resources are working to shape workplace sustainability nationally.
With these sorts of collaborations and targets in mind, Ms Carino says that the benefits of a health organisation joining a network where climate ambition is openly embraced are apparent.
“Those who join gain access to a global network of sustainable healthcare peers and experts, resources explicitly developed for sustainable healthcare, and opportunities to promote their environmental successes and earn international recognition for their sustainable healthcare leadership.
“Many members leave our regular member meetings feeling uplifted and rejuvenated after connecting with like-minded members.”
Ms Carino says that the ANMF and the broader nursing and midwifery workforce have played and can continue to play a significant role in driving behavioural change within healthcare, citing the profession’s “holistic focus” and encouraging those looking to promote their local workplace to join GGHH to get in touch with CAHA.
But as for those healthcare workers who remain unsure or unclear on the need for climate action, Ms Carino’s message was clear, especially given the number of climate-health crises seen in Australia over the past two to three years.
“We have a duty of care for our patients. We need to make sure we are informed about these issues so we can take effective action in our workplaces to prepare for and respond to climate-health impacts,” she says.
“We should have had government leadership on this decades ago. The next best solution is for every single one of us to do what we can in our spheres of influence now and do it urgently, as well as encourage governments and institutions to lead.
“Healthcare workers are no different.”