Creating an environmentally sustainable and climate resilient VCH
Did you know that the health care system is a significant contributor to climate change? Our care-providing activities are responsible for five percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada—that’s equivalent to the airline industry.
“If we were to decarbonize health care, it would actually be equivalent to eliminating air travel,” says Dr. Andrea MacNeill, VCH’s Regional Medical Director of Planetary Health.
VCH is leaning into the opportunity to take a leadership role in reducing the impact of our work on the planet, from personal actions like taking public transit or biking to work, to organization-wide choices like reducing energy use and greenhouse gas emissions across VCH facilities, and bringing more reusable products into our supply chain.
Our planetary health response has two main goals: environmental sustainability and climate resilience. Working to meet these goals will lead to improved health and well-being in the broader communities we serve, and the planet as a whole. Here is what we are doing to get there.
Transforming food systems for improved patient care and planetary health
In Canada, food-related emissions are about ten percent of health care emissions, and about 50 per cent of the food served to hospital patients is thrown out.
To begin to transform food systems for improved patient care and planetary health, VCH is studying food-related emissions and waste, along with patient satisfaction, nutritional status, and clinical outcomes and using food as a therapeutic intervention.
Almost half of patient bedside food is thrown away, filling our landfills and wasting dollars. Dr. Eileen Wong wanted to look at this through the lens of long-term care residents’ perspectives. Eileen found that much of the food waste was because residents found the taste, temperature or texture of the food unappealing. Meals were also served too close together, so residents were not hungry enough by their next meal. Working together to address these issues, Eileen and her team made some simple changes, such as reducing portion sizes while retaining needed calories. Food waste from participating residents dropped by half.
The idea of food as medicine comes from the understanding that good nutrition can protect our overall health. Dr. Annie Lalande, a fourth-year UBC general surgery resident, has been working with a team at Vancouver General Hospital to study the ways that food can be used as a therapeutic intervention. The team is looking at developing new menus to nourish and treat patients, and ways to share these lessons with other health care sites. For the next phase of this study, VCH is partnering with Ned Bell, the former executive chef of Ocean Wise, to design a planetary health diet for inpatients, which is optimized for both human and environmental health.
10 per cent of health care emissions are food related
50 per cent of food served to patients is thrown out
Gibsons nurse champions eco-conscious caregiving
For the last 12 years, Emily Doyle, a Public Health Nurse at the Gibsons Health Unit, has been in her community talking to people of all ages and backgrounds about their health. Increasingly, climate change and sustainability are coming up more often in her conversations with patients and clients.
Witnessing a warming planet, increased pollution, the pandemic and extreme weather events, as well as becoming a parent, encouraged Emily into becoming a change-maker at work.
From supporting families to adapt to the weather-related impacts of climate change to implementing sustainability practices in her office, Emily has taken actions like switching from paper printing to electronic resources, recycling vaccine packaging, and promoting carpooling, walking or cycling to work. Her passion for sustainability eventually took Emily to the Public Health Association of B.C.’s 2022 Conference, “Our Planet, Our Health: Creating Well-Being Societies and Making Peace with Nature.”
During the conference, a session on the importance of Indigenous knowledge and the need to integrate an eco-social approach into public health practice resonated with Emily: “There’s so much to learn from Indigenous people with regards to how to be in relationship with the earth.”
As a result of Emily’s passion and advocacy, climate change and sustainability are standing agenda items in the Sunshine Coast Public Health Nursing meetings to keep planetary health top of mind and support frontline staff in taking action toward a sustainable future.
Integrating planetary health principles into Richmond Hospital redevelopment
As the Richmond Hospital redevelopment team prepares for phase two construction of the Yurkovich Family Pavilion, planetary health principles are being integrated into all aspects of the build.
Here are areas where we plan to achieve a climate-positive impact.
Sustainable and climate-resilient building
- Aiming for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification
- Earthquake-safe and built above the flood line
- Low carbon design (with an 87 per cent reduction in emission compared to an average new hospital)
- Energy-efficient and electrified design (100 per cent is from low carbon electricity and 100 per cent carbon neutral)
Green-focused clinical spaces
- Built-in virtual health options
- Circular economy/reusables first principles
Active and clean transportation
- Easy connection to public transportation
- Bike storage and showering facilities
- Car-share parking and electric vehicle charging stations (Richmond Hospital has the largest EV charging installation in B.C. with 30 charging stations in our parkade)