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Let’s talk about sustainability

Let’s talk about sustainability

Nurses Jacqui Dunn and Tony Perkins

Climate change activist Kirsty Albion told the Health and Environmental Sustainability Conference that nurses and midwives – as some of the most trusted members of the community – have an important role to play in educating people about global warming.

Ms Albion, from the Australian Youth Climate Coalition (AYCC) said this decade was critical for preventing a two degree increase in global warming, which would be ‘catastrophic’ for the planet. In 2013–14, 156 climate records were broken in Australia.

Climate change was ‘a human issue; a health issue’, Ms Albion said. Extreme weather events, high temperatures and heatwaves all had major health impacts.

‘Many are familiar with the number of people who died in the Black Saturday bushfires but the heatwave leading up to the fires killed twice as many people,’ she said.

But Ms Albion also delivered good news about successful campaigns, including activism to persuade LendLease to pull out of building a coal port near the Great Barrier Reef. The AYCC is presently running a campaign ‘Dump my bank’ to lobby the big four Australian banks to stop investing in projects that sustain fossil fuel mining. Specifically, the AYCC wants the four big Australian banks to rule out support for coalmining in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

Ms Albion said the basin contains enough coal to contribute one fifth of the carbon towards a catastrophic two degrees of global warming. Visit for more details about the campaign.

Divestment from companies that opt to support fossil fuel industries was a major theme of the conference, with Julien Vincent, Lead Campaigner at Market Forces, suggesting to nurses and midwives that they should ask hard questions of their banks and superannuation funds, and direct their money towards ‘fossil-free’ companies. Visit for more information.

Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessey opened the conference by saying that environmental sustainability had never been more important because of the threat of climate change. Black Saturday would forever remind us of the health consequences of climate change, she said.

‘Losing 173 people on that day always serves as a searing reminder that this is not about feel-good practices around which rubbish bin you put your empty can in. It’s fundamentally about the health practices of not only Victoria but internationally.’

Ms Hennessey’s warnings about the health impacts of climate change were backed up by National Secretary of the United Firefighters Union of Australia, Peter Marshall, who said the cataclysmic fires that used to occur every ten years were now happening every two years. Paramedic Bracha Rafael spoke about the need to educate families about caring for elderly relatives during increasingly frequent heatwaves.

Ms Hennessey said Victorian hospitals emitted 718,000 tonnes of carbon annually, the equivalent of 150,000 new cars on the road each year. The energy and water bill for Victorian hospitals in 2013–14 was $110m, equal to 28,000 households.

By July 2016 an environmental data management system for the Victorian health sector would be in place, so that data on energy use, waste, paper use, medical gases and transport would be available to drive accountability and leadership on environmental sustainability.

Nurses Jacqui Dunn and Tony Perkins inspired attendees as they revealed their hard work in greening their nursing practice. Jacqui Dunn was responsible for an innovative recycling program within Monash Health Clayton Emergency Department. At Barwon Health, Tony Perkins and his team have created sustainable ways to conduct renal dialysis, finding sustainable sources of energy and reusing water from the resource-intensive procedure.

Ian McBurney, ecological sustainability practitioner, recharged the crowd’s batteries and provided inspiration for attendees to start their own sustainability journey to become a green champion of their workplace.

To conclude the conference, Austin Health CEO Dr Brendan Murphy outlined inspiring sustainability projects initiated by Austin Health’s sustainability team of three nurses (including Steven Wells) and an engineer.