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Nurses drive sustainability

Nurses are the key to sustainability in healthcare, according to the recent Greening the Health Sector Policy Think Tank report.

Climate and Health Alliance convenor Fiona Armstrong said nurses are demonstrating the willingness and capacity to drive a sustainability movement.

“Nurses have a holistic approach to health,” she said. “They understand the implications of a declining natural environment as well as its implications for health, and are motivated to do something about it.

“They are a large part of the healthcare workforce and are in hospital and healthcare settings 24/7, so they see the environmental impact of healthcare processes. This means they understand what needs to be done in addressing that.”

Armstrong also said that instigating energy-saving measures would have financial benefits.

“There is a lot of evidence that suggests the first wave of energy efficiency initiatives are actually cost positive, so there is opportunity to reduce costs by instituting energy efficiencies,” she said.
Sustainability initiatives also help with building a positive reputation and staff retention. A recent report by Health Care Without Harm demonstrated that sustainable initiatives create a positive morale among the workforce – and that makes people more inclined to stay on.

“People like to work for hospitals that are demonstrating a responsible attitude towards protecting the environment,” Armstrong said. “In an era of workforce shortages, having a culture of sustainability that can help you keep health professionals and save money at the same time is very good.”

Armstrong said that one of the current shortcomings in policy is a lack of understanding about the health risks of climate change. “I don’t think the full extent of what climate change means for health is really appreciated by the bulk of health professionals,” she said. “I think that will be impeding the ability of the sector to respond as effectively as it should.”

Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association CEO Prue Power believes the establishment of Global Green and Healthy Hospitals Network, a new worldwide network of healthcare organisations, shows that “healthcare organisations internationally are recognising they have a responsibility and an opportunity to provide leadership on this issue”.

“It’s time for the Australian health sector to think about how well prepared we are to deal with the impacts of climate change over coming years and decades, as well as take action to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint,” she said.

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