In conversation with

Emma Wright

Emma has a Bachelor of Environmental Science (Honours), Bachelor of Environmental Science (Conservation Ecology),Certificate in Advanced GHG compliance, is GreenStar Certified, GRI Certified and is ISC Foundations Trained.

Sustainability Director Emma Wright recently facilitated a panel of operational health leaders.

They discussed the challenges around the tension that often exists from a planning and decision perspective in prioritizing environmentally sustainable investments without impacting the care services and patient experience.  

Emma outlines the learnings from that panel here. 


Q: What is the opportunity broadly in the health sector when it comes to sustainability in operations and facility management? 

Current data show us that 5.2% of global CO2 emissions comes from the health sector – which is more than aviation and shipping combined. The causes of these emissions vary between providers across the sector, based on the nature of their business, location and services. But the largest category for emissions is in the supply chain, where PWC research shows that over 70% of emissions are embedded.  These are known as Scope 3 emissions and include the supply chain emissions of personal protective equipment, medicines and other consumables. 

Clearly work needs to be done in the supply chain, small changes there could make a huge difference in emissions in a relatively short period of time.

However, there’s also a plethora of opportunities when it comes to the infrastructure from which we operate. The challenges faced there include aged and inefficient buildings, the trade off with spending on patient care as well as the capital cost efficiency investments.   

Speaking to the panel, with their vast knowledge of the healthcare sector, we unpacked some of those challenges.

The capital cost of the investment was number one, followed by the need to work around existing infrastructure – making the building shells and configurations work. One specific example discussed was needing space in plant rooms for technology advancements such as heat pumps to replace boilers. This was considered in the design and construction of the Northern Beaches Hospital in Sydney, where for example plant rooms were built with additional space for future equipment requirements.

Knock-down re-build can also be impractical, given the embedded carbon costs in the existing facilities. The complexity of the facilities – from labs to pharmacies, critical care units, commercial kitchen, operating theatres, other surgical facilities and more – means there is a lot to consider when planning.

Emma facilitating the panel at Victorian Health Week


Q: What are some of the biggest opportunities for you to invest in sustainability in health facilities? 

One perspective I found interesting was where you’re balancing the interests of landlord, investor and operational team as they are not always aligned. It was clear from our discussion that investment in sustainability needs to be a focus now, so that the fruits of that investment can be realised as we rapidly approach 2030 and net zero targets for many of our clients (e.g. Australian Government).

In particular, investment in energy efficient solutions is key and in return, all stakeholders will see a reduction in cost through the use of less power and reliance on the grid. 

The move toward energy efficiency could be as simple as switching the lighting used in facilities to LED. You might think the conversion to LED is old news, but there are many facilities that have yet to make the transition. It’s low hanging fruit in terms of opportunity, as well as making a significant difference both to power bills and long-term maintenance costs. 

One panelist mentioned the need to switch from gas heating to heat pumps, which are a solution for heating and hot water production that provides higher efficiencies than gas, even in extremely cold climates. 

Better efficiency could also involve more efficient HVAC systems, or an analysis of the use of the space in a facility and whether you need to run lights and air con in all locations, all the time. And then there’s the use of IoT – putting sensors on equipment to provide real time monitoring of critical assets such as pumps and refrigeration units and detecting inefficiencies before they become a drain on your power and your budget. 

Emma with Ventia's Alastair Tye, General Manager, Business Development


Q: Electrification is a great objective in supporting a vision for sustainable facilities. How does this influence plans and visions for the workforce that will be responsible for undertaking ongoing asset management and support of the electrification infrastructure?

A key challenge here is in changing perceptions and improving understanding of the benefits of electrification and how to implement it. But we absolutely need to consider how we prepare our workforce for changes to the infrastructure they will be maintaining.

Any changes to the skills required to support this transition across our infrastructure need to be managed thoughtfully.

This might mean partnering with educational institutions, including technical training institutes, to give employees access to courses in energy transition related fields. Or making both online and in-person training available within the workplace. On the job training will be critical, so there may be collaboration between those health facilities that have already implemented new technology or sustainable design and those that are less far along in their journey, offering opportunities to learn. 


Q: Everyone wants sustainable health facilities, but they face challenges with building viable business cases for sustainable facility investments. How have operators managed this process?  

The policy push for electrification places a focus on studying implications to health portfolios.  At the end of the day, it’s clear that decisions are being made between the financial and environmental trade-off.

At the Victorian Health Building Authority, they secured a 2.5% sustainability budget for all projects. In addition to securing the funding, a robust business case was essential in getting senior decision makers on side. They use this funding in collaboration with health agencies on solutions for optimal performance and consumption, encompassing things like installation of solar panels, indoor air quality monitoring etc.

The good news is that, according to the Clean Energy Council, things like all-electric buildings are likely to attract investment via green, social and sustainable bonds, green and sustainability-linked loans, and sustainability linked bonds.