The Path to Environmental Respon$ibility

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Not everyone in health care is skeptical when it comes to the impact they can have by enhancing environmental wellbeing through reduced energy consumption. Responsible health-care leaders from over 265 Canadian health service providers have voluntarily pledged membership in Natural Resources Canada’s Energy Innovators Initiative (EII) and by doing so are supporting our national efforts to meet commitments under 1997’s Kyoto Protocol – the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to 6 per cent below 1990 levels by the period between 2008 and 2012.

Those corporations that have chosen this path of increased environmental responsibility are being well rewarded for their actions. Through their recent voluntary initiatives it is estimated that over 172,012 tonnes of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions have been eliminated and nearly $40M in operating and utility costs have been redirected back into the provision of health care services.

However, despite empirical evidence in support of these successes, there are still many real and perceived barriers and challenges that impede actions to achieving a sustained positive impact on our fragile environment. Some of these challenges include: (1)

  • failure to recognize the extent and urgency of the problem
  • low priority given to environmentally responsible practices among health care organizations
  • lack of awareness of available guidelines for environmentally responsible practice
  • lack of tools and structures to help guide the health sector in this area
  • high, short-term cost of new “green” technologies and programmes
  • existing factors that encourage wasteful practice such as increased diagnostic testing and paperwork related to litigation fears and lifestyles & values that are difficult to changes (i.e. the convenience of disposable products)

When concerned health-care facilities embrace environmental responsibility through policies and actions they end up enhancing the quality of life for employees, tenants, clients, patients and those in the surrounding communities they serve. In addition to energy/operating cost decreases, there are a number of secondary and tertiary benefits: a more comfortable workplace, improved employee health and morale, reduced sick days, a stimulated local economy through project-related employment, improved overall facility infrastructure, enhanced employee knowledge and skill sets, increased employee awareness and improved job security.

Demonstrated environmental thoughtfulness can also result in a heightened community awareness of a facility’s commitment to reducing its negative impact upon the environment. This is particularly important for a health care facility and a system that is dedicated to healing and “doing no harm.”

The Government of Canada is investing $1.1 billion to address climate change over the next few years, in part through the incentives available to members of the Energy Innovators Initiative to help overcome barriers such as those mentioned above. There are two financial assistance components to the incentives: “Planning” funding and “Retrofit” funding. Under the “Planning” Assistance (ERA-P), a potential $25,000 is made available to assist organizations with energy audits, feasibility studies, energy management plans and other project facilitation services.

Members with three or fewer buildings may receive $7.50 per gigajoule saved in an energy retrofit project up to a maximum of $250,000 or 25 per cent of approved project costs under the “Retrofit” component (ERA-3). Likewise, and in consideration of replicating the successful measures in at least 25% of remaining similar facilities, those with four or more buildings are eligible, again under “Retrofit” (ERA-4), for $15 per gigajoule saved in an energy retrofit pilot project up to the same funding maximums.

Eligible costs include, but are not limited to: approved staff training and employee awareness campaigns, energy monitoring and tracking systems, project development and management costs such as audits, feasibility studies and energy management plans. Also included are capital costs for materials and labour related to direct energy-saving measures such as efficient lighting systems, building envelopes, controls, water heating, motors, and heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) retrofits.

Recent recipients include Winnipeg Health Sciences Centre, Saint Luke’s Place, Simon Fraser Health Region, Toronto Grace General Hospital, St Thomas-Elgin General Hospital, Grand River Hospital and Grey Gables Home for the Aged. The funding these, and thirty-five other, Canadian health care facilities have received is in excess of $3.9M and represents just one of the many benefits that accrue to members of EII, a voluntary federal programme of NRCan’s Office of Energy Efficiency (OEE). EII is designed to help institutions explore energy efficiency options and strategies and attempts to overcome some of the barriers to developing and implementing energy savings projects in part through financial incentive programmes.

To learn more about how you can become a better steward of our environment and take advantage of federal incentive dollars, contact Arlene Wilson, NRCan’s Energy Innovators Officer at 1-613-943-0647 (awilson@nrcan.gc.ca) or the Canadian College of Health Service Executives’ Energy Efficiency Coordinator at 1-613-756-0435 ( kwaddington@cchse.org ).

References and Notes:

1. Hancock, Dr. Trevor, Doing Less Harm: Assessing and Reducing the Environmental and Health Impact of Canada’s Health Care System. The Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care 2001 (www.greenhealthcare.ca/reports.htm)