How do we inject sustainability into healthcare?

During her recent visit to Australia, global sustainability pioneer Gail Vittori shared unparalleled insights into how we can inject sustainability into healthcare.

Vittori posed a question to our staff: “Do you think hospitals are a pleasant place to be?”

No one raised their hand.

With the recent opening of the new 4 Star Green Star rated Royal Adelaide Hospital, Vittori’s visit to Australia is a timely reminder to think about the future of sustainable healthcare and how we can improve these environments for patients and staff.

So what does the current climate of healthcare look like and what are some of the issues we need to tackle now?

“One of the issues we often face is that when standout projects come to life, you have a whole other tier of projects that aren’t exhibiting the same kind of commitment, awareness or investment,” says Gail.

The new Royal Adelaide Hospital for example, exhibits a host of environmental features including harvested water for toilet flushing and landscape irrigation and a water efficient thermal plant.

The building’s glass façade allows for streams of natural light to illuminate the building and patient rooms have access to outdoor green spaces.

In addition, the hospital is connected by cycleways, footpaths and public transport.

When we get the balance right, we achieve what Gail calls a "high performance healing environment".

“The elements of a sustainable facility embrace multiple considerations and don’t fall into a trade-off," she says.

“It can’t be high performing in reducing energy, but not have access to natural light for example. It has to be an integrated approach where all of these elements are essential."

“On the high performance side, we consider energy, water use and waste management and on the healing environments side, it’s all about creating a place where people want to be; that really gives us a sense of connection.

“We can’t ignore the fact that we need to be creating a portfolio of low carbon hospitals, but at the same time, those low carbon hospitals have to be fantastic environments for patients and staff.”

Design features such as connectivity, natural light and biophilia are all elements that can reduce turnover of medical professionals.

In terms of the challenges we face on home soil, Gail points to the current debate around energy.

“I’ve been aware of the energy instability in Australia. What a great time to really begin to draw the pathway for healthcare to dramatically reduce its energy dependence and increase its reliance on renewables.”

And in order to boost energy efficiency in hospitals and health facilities, Gail says rating tools such as Green Star can catalyse widespread industry change.

“Green Star focusses the marketplace on certain approaches that are structured to accelerate market transformation because you have more people aligned around key strategies. A voice is amplified if it’s shared by hundreds of thousands of people who are doing the same thing.”