Over the past few years, decarbonisation has emerged rapidly in the healthcare sector, and in five more years, net zero healthcare will become the new normal.

Resilience is one of the major factors driving this change. The shocks and stressors of the pandemic, bushfires and flooding events experienced by the sector have exacerbated the need to reduce emissions and transition to renewable and sustainable energy sources. 

It’s also driven by the human toll of climate change. Events like Australia’s 2019-2020 bushfires are responsible for significantly increasing hospitalisations and emergency department visits. The sector’s main objective is to prevent and protect people from harm, and its practitioners are on the frontline to fight the negative effects on communities. 

Many organisations are acting now, and for those that aren’t its high on their agenda. Climate action and decarbonisation for many is met by fear and doubt, but we are working with many organisations to provide pragmatic and effective design solutions to reduce emissions and provide clarity for the future. 

Understanding healthcare’s carbon footprint

From energy used, meals consumed, toilet paper supplied, and vehicles driven – every decision made, and product purchased builds each healthcare facility’s emission profile. The first step for reducing emissions is understanding where they are coming from and where impactful change can be made. 

This process is also known as calculating a facility’s footprint by categorising emissions into three different scopes: scope 1 – emissions released into the atmosphere as the result of a direct activity; scope 2 – emissions released through the consumption of energy; and scope 3 – indirect emissions through products and services procured.

Understanding a health facility’s carbon footprint can be more challenging than other sectors. For example, healthcare has niche emission sources not included in broader emission frameworks, including medical gases, clinical waste and specialised services. Health practitioners and procedures also differ drastically from other sectors in their processes. 

We are working with many organisations to provide pragmatic and effective design solutions to reduce emissions and provide clarity for the future.

Julian Soper


Case study: Mercy Health

Mercy Health, a leading Catholic healthcare provider in Victoria, has an ambitious goal to reach net zero emissions for all its facilities by 2030. We partnered with the organisation to develop a methodology to identify and calculate their greenhouse gas emissions. Over six months, we conducted intensive work to identify all sources of emissions and found over 62 per cent of emissions were classified as scope 3 from sources not owned or controlled by Mercy Health, including catering, pharmaceuticals and personal travel. 

Mercy Health now has an empirical baseline of its emissions, a greater understanding of how to achieve its target, and a replicable foot printing process to measure their progress year on year.

Creating a road map for change

The complexity of healthcare facilities and systems can make decarbonisation and climate action seem overwhelming; however, there are clear trajectories and practical actions health leaders can consider and effectively implement. Health facilities and organisations will all have different sources and levels of emissions, and there are different ways they can help drive change. 

In partnership with Healthcare Without Harm, we developed a road map providing a plan and charting a course to get the global health care sector to net zero. By researching 68 countries, we established where emissions are more prevalent and explored interventions where different organisations and groups can contribute to reducing them. 

Government can have the greatest impact by putting climate action into healthcare policy while the private sector can act by setting targets and demanding sustainable materials from manufacturers. Using the recommendations and pathways set out in this road map, we are working with the NHS, the United Kingdom's National Health Service, to create a framework for reducing emissions from measure the organisation’s carbon footprint to implementing supply chain changes.

Resilient healthcare facilities for vulnerable communities

Extreme weather events with far reaching impacts are challenging us more frequently. These impacts disproportionately affecting those in rural and remote areas, with serious social, health and economic impacts. Resilient healthcare facilities and systems are crucial for protecting vulnerable communities. 

In 2017, Peru suffered devasting flooding from the El Niño phenomenon destroying homes, roads, schools, hospitals and many lives and livelihoods were lost in the tragedy. Through a government-to-government agreement between Peru and the UK, we are supporting the Government of Peru to accelerate the reconstruction of vital infrastructure and ensure long-term resilience and sustainability.

We are supporting the scoping, design, implementation and transition to operations of 18 health facilities in some of the most remote parts of Peru. Buildings are designed with greater resilience to ensure hospitals and health centres withstand major weather and seismic events and can continue to offer services to vulnerable communities. Flexible modular facilities can be easily expanded to cater for growing populations without interruption to critical services. Natural ventilation, sustainable drainage systems, resilient building services systems, and enhanced fire safety are some of the changes introduced. Read more about this partnership in our report Two years of the Government to Government partnership between the UK and Peru.

Accelerating change is possible with people

Looking beyond the data, facilities, and supplies, at the heart of the healthcare sector is people – millions of professionals working every day in diverse settings and situations to provide our most vulnerable with safety and care. 

While the sector progresses decarbonisation efforts, engaging with its people is critical to navigate the future, understanding where change is needed and finding a better way forward. Their voices are integral to helping lead the sector, create changes and urging other sectors to follow them. 

Transformational change will not happen overnight, but our team of multidisciplinary engineers, advisors, and consultants are here to support the healthcare sector through challenging but exciting times ahead.