The Energy Initiative at Nurses Drawdown encourages nurses to reduce their individual consumption of fossil fuel power while also advocating for green energy solutions in all sectors of their lives, from individual, to community, all the way to the international level. Consumption of fossil fuel power drives climate change and in turn, disease. Greenhouse gases contribute to respiratory diseases directly in areas with high levels of pollution. However, the ultimate threat to human health is by driving a climate system that raises global temperatures, causes droughts, extreme weather, and famine.
Across the world, 25% of heat-trapping greenhouse gases come from electricity production and 6% come from buildings (Project Drawdown 2020). Moving towards renewable energy production has been identified as key to reducing our carbon emissions by Project Drawdown, and solutions can be grouped into the three large strategies: enhancing efficiency, shifting production, and improving systems. Three solar solutions used to shift production of greenhouse gases include utility-scale solar photovoltaics, distributed solar photovoltaics and concentrated solar power as defined below:
Concentrated solar power uses sunlight as a heat source. Arrays of mirrors concentrate incoming rays onto a receiver to heat fluid, produce steam, and turn turbines.
Rooftop solar panels are one example of distributed solar photo-voltaic systems. Whether grid-connected or part of stand-alone systems, they offer hyper-local, clean electricity generation.
Solar photovoltaics can be used at utility-scale—with hundreds or thousands of panels—to tap the sun’s clean, free fuel and replace fossil fuel electricity generation.
A fourth strategy of increasing efficiency of energy is to use solar water heating. This strategy reduces emissions through direct heating of water through solar radiation in lieu of fuel or electricity. These four solar solutions also connect with the broad strategy of improving energy systems. Although we will not discuss this further in this section, we invite you to explore these solutions as defined below here.
The emissions reductions enabled by these solutions are allocated to electricity generation solutions
Smarter, more flexible electric grids can cut energy losses during distribution. They are critical to enable renewables, which are more variable than conventional electricity generation.
A microgrid is a localized grouping of distributed electricity generation technologies, paired with energy storage or backup generation and tools to manage demand or “load.
Standalone batteries and electric vehicles store energy. They can enable 24/7 electricity supply even when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing.
Large-scale energy storage ensures electricity supply can match demand. It enables the shift to variable renewables and curbs emissions from polluting “peaker” plants.
Canadian healthcare facilities have the highest energy use intensity in comparison to other commercial and institutional buildings: 2.45 Gigajoules per cubic meter. Even though hospitals make up only 0.2% of such buildings, their energy use makes up 4.1% of total energy use of the building sector (CAPE 2019 p.198). The solar renewable energy solutions described above have real potential to reduce the carbon footprints of our hospitals and healthcare facilities.
Concentrated Solar Power (CSP) is a definite solution for warm and sunny climates, however, there is a use case potential for Canadian communities that have high-sunshine duration, as per the example of Medicine Hat. CSP is being used for hospitals internationally, such as is briefly described in this Greenpeace article here.
Utility-scale solar photovoltaic exists in a few Canadian communities, and most notably in Ontario. Utility-scale solar developers and the healthcare community can both benefit in envisioning and planning for provision of this type of solar energy to include healthcare facilities.
Solar water heating exists in many Canadian healthcare facilities. Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children was the first to use this technology in 2007 (Environmental News Network 2007). There are five solar thermal installations at Victoria General, Saanich Peninsula, Aberdeen Hospitals and Cairnsmore Place (Vancouver Island Health Authority 2021). Penticton Regional Hospital and Summerland Health Centre of BC’s Interior Health Authority also have solar thermal arrays (Interior Health 2011), and there are plans for the East Kootenay Regional Hospital to have solar walls, another solar technology to increase efficiency of energy use. Shouldice Hospital in Ontario uses an innovative solar thermal and cooling system. You can read more in this Report.
As nurses, we are called to leadership and advocacy to protect the environment. We see the links between environment and human health and social justice (Canadian Nurses Association n.d.). As healthcare providers, we are called upon to join the movement for a Just Recovery, so that we answer to the many crises we face – the COVID-19 pandemic, colonialism, racism, climate change with a call to social and planetary justice and health. There is much that can be done in our own communities and workplaces. Organizing to make concrete change happen is empowering for fellow coworkers and community members.
Solar power renewables are tangible solutions that reduce our carbon footprint.
There are many organizations and tools at your disposal to help and support you to get started such as the Canadian Coalition for Green Health Care Toolkit, the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment’s Climate Change Toolkit, of which Module 8: Engaging in Climate Change Solutions for Health Professionals is particularly salient.
The Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environment’s Nurses Drawdown section on Energy also has additional information and ideas on how to take action.
Many health authorities and organizations also have commitments to environmental sustainability and may have green teams/sustainability offices. Two such examples of health systems that offer this are Vancouver Island Health Authority and Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre.
If there is no green team within your workplace or unit, we invite you to find a few like-minded individuals at work who would be willing to tackle this opportunity with you, and create your own green team. There may be a sustainability office or resource person that you can connect with more centrally that may support your work within the organization; seek out their support to know what projects they are working on and ask about how you might get involved.
Depending on the size of your workplace setting and its connections to the nearby community, there may be value in connecting with local community members or organizations that are involved with sustainable development or climate change action locally. Bringing in community voices can strengthen relationships with and even community appreciation of your organization. Seeing how important the greening of your workplace is for community representatives can also create more buy-in and support from your administration and decision-makers.
There is great value in connecting with greening health care and professional association, such as Synergie Santé Environnement, the Canadian Green Healthcare Coalition, CANE, Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment (CAPE), and the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments (ANHE). CANE is an environment and health specialty group within the Canadian Nurses Association, as well as Ontario Nurses for the Environment Interest Group (ONEIG) of the Registered Nurses Association of Ontario (RNAO) and the new Manitoba Nurses for Health and the Environment (MNHE).
As you start up a green team, education may be the best place to start. Ideal times are during lunch hours or grand rounds. The more your fellow colleagues are in the know about both the dire prospects of climate change and the many possible solutions, the more likely they are to feel empowered to act or to support a green team at your worksite. There are great webinars by CAPE, CANE, and ANHE that can be found online as well. As stated in CAPE (2019) Module 8, “the challenge for each of us is to choose the ways in which we want to engage in climate change in our workplaces or communities, and to develop the skills required to do that work well.”
Working towards solar power for your healthcare facility may be a slow process, or you may find this was already part of future plans. Joining the table in these discussions or promoting this solution can help increase the ecoliteracy of your peers, motivate leadership and staff into action, as well as strengthen community ties in showing care and innovative leadership our society needs right now to prevent and mitigate the climate crisis.
First, we invite you to refer to the links in the text above, second, we add:
Global climate change is no longer an ominous future threat but a dawning reality – one that is already creating disturbing shifts in the natural and human environment and eroding the delicate balance of our planet’s ecosystem and the species that depend on it. This discussion draft is based on the World Health Organization’s (WHO) mandate from member states to develop “programmes for health systems that will contribute to reducing their own greenhouse gas emissions”. It also takes root in Health Care Without Harm’s (HCWH) more than 12 years of experience of working globally to transform the health sector so that it is no longer a source of harm to human health and the environment.
The paper begins to define a framework for analysing and addressing the health sector’s climate footprint – including identifying seven aspects of a climate-friendly hospital. It also draws on a series of examples from around the world that demonstrate that the health sector is indeed already beginning to provide leadership in this most important area of concern to the global community. This paper is the first step in a WHO project in collaboration with Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) aimed at addressing the climate footprint of the health sector.
Naveco Power addresses why hospitals are playing a crucial role in our energy revolution- and they’re reaping the benefits since Solar energy is a healthy alternative for the energy needs of healthcare.
SunPower Corporation (US) explain how hospitals that utilize renewables can reduce a hospital’s carbon emissions and have a positive effect on community and environmental health.
SunPower Corporation (US) presents detailed case studies of healthcare organizations who have successfully implemented solar power to meet their energy needs and boost their financial status.
Explore CANE’s work in these five key areas in support of this campaign: