Healthcare is green at Fraser Health

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From winter to summer and back, Fraser Health (FH) was completely carbon neutral in 2012. Fraser Health administers 12 acute care hospitals, has 22,000 staff, and serves a population of 1.6 million across the lower mainland of British Columbia.

In addition, the health authority administers 149 buildings, which entail roughly 700,000 square meters of health care related facility space. Fraser Health annually consumes 86 GwH of electricity and 570 000 GJ of natural gas.

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All of those facilities, operations, and energy usage have been deemed carbon neutral for 3 straight years, dating back to 2010.

But this story started well before 2010.

It was in 2007 that Sustainability Manager, Glen Garrick, envisioned an organization-wide effort to reduce its environmental impact. According to Glen, “I once worked in Africa for a medical NGO. I had an epiphany one day while disposing of medical waste. I realized that we were good at helping patients that came in the door but we gave very little, if any thought to the amount of waste and garbage we produced.  How this impacted the environment and subsequently human health was given even less consideration. The community around our facilities constantly had power outages but we didn’t give any thought to the amount of energy we would drain from the power grid, much less reducing it.

Coming to Vancouver and working in healthcare, I realized that was not just a Third World problem. Even here in Canada, we have occasionally sent the wrong waste to the wrong location. With energy usage, we used what we wanted with disregard to concepts like waste, or even the carbon impact it had on the environment. It was then that I committed myself to being a part of the solution and started a program called GreenCare.”

It was in 2008 that Sustainability Manager, Ruth Abramson, envisioned direct one-on-one engagement with staff around energy and environmental conservation. She devised a program called Green+Leaders to provide staff with direct support in making energy and environmental sustainability changes in their work spaces.

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In 2010, these Sustainability Managers, along with three Energy Managers, came together under Fraser Health, to establish an Energy and Environmental Sustainability team. This team has been working to reduce the carbon, and environmental footprint of Fraser Health and other British Columbia health care organizations since.

“At a high level our strategy is actually pretty simple. We engage staff for behavioural and cultural change, and we work tirelessly to improve the mechanical elements in our facilities to be as energy efficient as possible.  However, in the end, no organization the size of ours is going to be carbon neutral on its own,” explains Glen.

Thus was born the online “GreenCare Community” website. The site would enable leaders to reach out to all internal and external stakeholders in energy and environmental sustainability. Internally over 3,700 employees have registered to be a part of the community. They’ve formed groups around “Energy Conservation”, “Walk, Bike, Ride”, “Healthy Land and Food”, “Recycling Renewal”, and even a group on designing facilities, called “LEED” (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) and “LBC” (Living Building Challenge). Within these groups, staff collaborate, share, and take away best practices and solutions to improve health care’s energy and environmental sustainability.

The Energy Conservation group is run by the Energy Management team. Beyond the social engagement with staff around behavioural change, mechanically, the Fraser Health Energy Management team have been able to reduce Fraser Health’s energy consumption by 6 per cent since 2009/2010. This has been accomplished through lighting retrofits, lighting control upgrades, boiler upgrades, kitchen appliance upgrades, and much more.

The GreenCare Community also reaches out to external stakeholders. It provides valuable insight into their team’s strategic framework, programs, and resources.

According to Glen, “The utilities out here are a fantastic support. BC Hydro has offered us a lot of resources and funding for energy improvements. FortisBC, our natural gas supplier, has also offered us support and funding, which included the funds to build the GreenCare Community website. Without them, we simply wouldn’t have that level of social engagement.”

Other key stakeholders noted by Glen were Sodexo, Aramark, TransLink and the HUB.

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“It’s about being financial, health, social and environmental stewards. We’ll always work hard to reduce our carbon footprint but in the areas where it’s impossible to zero that footprint through conservation and reduction, we’ll take steps to offset that footprint through the investment in alternative power such as solar and geo-exchange, the purchase of green power from wind turbines in northern BC, and the purchase of carbon offsets when necessary,” says Glen.

The health care sector faces a lot of challenges with improving services while reducing costs. In a lot of cases, taking responsibility for environmental stewardship is an after-thought or lost in internal challenges with time and funding. Fraser Health’s Energy and Environmental Sustainability team is proving that through collaborations and commitments, the grass of environmental stewardship can be just as green in winter as it is in the summer.

For more information on the GreenCare Community and the work being done by Fraser Health and its health care partners across British Columbia visit https://bcgreencare.ca/framework

*with files from Glen Garrick