Cork University Hospital (CUH) is the first hospital in the world to be awarded the prestigious ‘Green Flag’ for its efforts in reducing its carbon footprint by the Foundation for Environmental Education and An Taisce.
The Green Flag award acknowledges CUH as a leading healthcare organisation in green initiatives such as:
· nominating staff as green advocates who are the eyes and ears of the hospital’s green agenda. The advocates identify areas where CUH can make changes and better implement its green programme. They also help to spread the message of sustainability in their respective departments around the hospital campus.
· benchmarking its energy consumption and waste management. CUH measures itself against the EPA benchmarks, which allows the hospital to assess its performance and set goals and targets for energy saving and waste reduction.
· looking after garden areas – recently many trees and shrubs have been transplanted to other areas during the construction of a new building for mental health services. A Japanese garden and a green play area for children and their families have also been developed.
· harnessing support from staff working towards shared goals and targets. There is a strong feeling of togetherness and team work as everybody is moving towards making sustainable practices the norm and the way things are done across the CUH campus.
The green initiatives have also reaped financial savings for the hospital. In 2013 savings of €96,318in 2013,which would provide enough heating and power for 66 households a year based on their typical consumption, equivalent to 1,265,862 kwhr or 493 tonnes green house gases reduction. The campus improved its waste management practices and this resulted in an increase in the waste recycling rate to 34%; a reduction in food waste by three tonnes and a reduction of health care risk (clinical) waste by nine tonnes.
An Taisce granted the international accreditation following a stringent review of the hospital’s waste, energy, water use, transport, recycling efforts and emissions, representing extensive efforts over four years by staff and students on the CUH campus.
An Taisce noted “it was evident that there is strong managerial commitment to the programme throughout the hospital and the staff commitment and buy-in was obvious. This was clearly demonstrated by the appointment of a sustainable environment project officer and the establishment of a sustainability steering group, which is chaired by CUH CEO, Mr. Tony McNamara. The high level of commitment from staff was evident as there are now over 110 green advocates actively promoting the green message in CUH and many departmental green teams who are striving to achieve cultural change and make more sustainable practices the norm across the hospital campus.”
According to CUH’s CEO Mr. Tony McNamara, “By creating a healthier environment for patients, staff and visitors, we are taking an important step in achieving the best outcomes for our patients and supporting community health. Specific changes in the ways we operate will lay the groundwork for better health – inside and outside our hospital walls. In recent years we have endeavoured to transform the design, construction and operations of CUH campus facilities to minimise environmental impacts and foster healthy, healing environments. With the assistance of staff we have also improved energy efficiency and waste management practices. We can quickly adopt proven practices and generate cost savings that allow us to devote more resources to do what we do best: provide high-quality, safe healthcare services.”
For many years, the Green Flag initiative was awarded to schools and colleges throughout the country but the programme is now being expanded to other work places and large-scale organisations. It is therefore appropriate that CUH the primary teaching hospital associated with University College Cork (a Green Flag institution) has been granted this Green Flag.
Daniel Schaffer CEO of the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) said “When I had the chance to visit the hospital as part of the evaluation process in September 2014, it became quite clear to me how complex was the task CUH had chosen to undertake and how high was the commitment needed by the whole organization. I was truly impressed, and hope that the example that CUH has set for a Green Flag at a medical campus will be followed by others around the world in the future.”
The hospital also supports the work of the HSE’s National Health Sustainability Office which is working to develop and build staff, patient and public awareness of sustainability issues in the health sector, leading to a healthier environment and lower costs throughout the country.