The World Health Organisation has described climate change as “the greatest threat to global health in the 21st century”.
With increasing attention paid to the links between healthcare and climate change, we spoke with Dr Katherine Barraclough, an alumni from our 2015 Sustainability in the Workplace course to share her experience of the course and insight into the challenges facing her sector in Australia.
Katherine, a Consultant Nephrologist at Royal Melbourne Hospital, works predominantly in the field of kidney transplantation. She has 14 years’ experience in the health sector and has worked across Australia, India and Canada.
An important treatment in the Nephrology field is haemodialysis is which is highly energy and resource intensive. In 2013 (latest available figures) 21,470 individuals were receiving treatment for end-stage kidney disease, almost half in the form of haemodialysis. This power-hungry system with a weekly power requirement that equates to approximately half the weekly power requirement of an average Australian 4-person home also uses vast amounts of water and generates a high amount of waste.
Concerned that little attention has been paid to environmental sustainability in this area in Australia, Katherine has been pro-active in creating change in this space. She is involved in a number of hospital and state based environmental groups and initiatives and is currently initiating an Environmental Sustainability Working Group that will sit under the auspices of the Australia New Zealand Society of Nephrology. The group will address the issue of environmental sustainability across Nephrology Services in the ANZ region.
Q. What initially inspired you to embark on the Green Steps Sustainability in the Workplace course?
I have young children, passionately love the natural world and it is my job to look after human health. Each of these will be impacted significantly by the choices we make and actions we take to address environmental sustainability. Because of this, I feel a strong sense of responsibility to contribute to positive change.
I chose to participate in the Green Steps program to gain practical skills and meet like-minded people, as working in this space as a medical practitioner can be quite isolating.
Q. How would you describe your overall experience?
The training style was relaxed, informal and fun! It differed from other courses. We were encouraged to bring our whole selves to the course and share experiences. This allowed us to learn from each other and the facilitators. The course content was also very broad and we were invited to contribute which kept us interested and alert throughout.
The course equipped me with a wide range of skills I could apply in my work - from conducting waste audits, reducing energy consumption and carbon emissions through to communication skills around environmental issues that enable me to more effectively engage people. The whole experience made me feel there was a lot to be hopeful about for the future.
Q. How have you applied skills or tools from the course to progress your sustainability goals?
One of the greatest lessons I learnt was to consider the drivers of my organisation and the people who work there when advocating for change – I can’t assume that others care about the same things that I do! I also improved my presentation skills – one of the big takeaways is that sustainability issues are big and complex so taking a more personal and human approach to presenting the solutions is an effective way to reach people. Since completing Green Steps, I have applied both lessons into documents, presentations and simple interactions; in all cases I felt that they had positive impact.
Q. What do you hope to see in the future for sustainability in the healthcare profession?
I want to see a shift in healthcare so that a culture of sustainability is embedded into the way we do things. Not only is this good for the environment, it would also lead to reductions in resource usage, waste and costs, which would greatly improve our ability to deliver effective and efficient healthcare into the future.