Take action: How practices can reduce their environmental impact

Morgan Liotta

3/06/2022 3:09:03 PM

A new RACGP resource serves as a ‘timely reminder to take collective responsibility for the climate health emergency’.

Forest being cleared
There are a number of ways general practices can take action to minimise both their clinical and non-clinical carbon footprint.

Bushfires, ‘biblical’ floods, droughts, record-breaking temperatures.
The impacts of climate change are set to become more frequent as the earth’s temperatures rise, according to the warnings from the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.
These impacts will also generate wide-ranging long- and short-term health challenges, which the RACGP says GPs will need to help identify, reduce and manage.
As part of its ongoing effort to address climate change, the college has released Greening up: Environmental sustainability in general practice, to inform and support Australian GPs and their practice teams to reduce their environmental footprint, to coincide with World Environment Day on 5 June.
As part of the college’s General practice business toolkit, the new resource helps to enable practices to take action on reducing energy consumption, prescribing decisions and advocating on behalf of patients for effective climate change policy and action.
‘This is a robust resource that addresses the need for GPs to both reduce their carbon footprint and prepare for the health fallout of climate change,’ Dr Kate Wylie, Chair of RACGP Specific Interests Climate and Environmental Medicine, told newsGP
‘It shows the college’s continued commitment to supporting GPs to act on climate and serves as a how-to-guide to greening general practice.’
Effectively communicating the health risks of climate change to their patients, the public and policymakers is part of GPs’ role as trusted healthcare providers, and their position in addressing these risks and supporting environmental sustainability is outlined in the new resource.
‘When GPs act on climate change, we send a signal to our communities,’ Dr Wylie said.
‘We show that we think it’s important to act to protect human health and we show how small business can be part of the solution, not part of the problem. 
‘Climate solutions are win-win-win scenarios in healthcare: they are good for our health, good for our climate and good for our hip pocket.’ 
Recommendations on how to act at an individual, practice and population level to minimise the carbon footprint – both clinical and non-clinical – are also presented in the college resource.
While data on the current carbon footprint of Australian general practice is lacking, research suggests that pathology testing and diagnostic imaging together contribute to around 9% of the overall healthcare system’s emissions.
Meanwhile, in the UK, it is estimated that pharmaceutical prescribing makes up between 65% and 90% of the carbon footprint in general practices.
Choosing required treatments wisely, while reducing unnecessary tests and procedures are ‘essential steps’ in reducing the carbon footprint in general practice, according to the RACGP.
And when general practices take action to minimise the environmental footprint they generate, this is ‘actively contributing’ in helping to manage the current and future health impacts of climate change.
Dr Wylie believes reducing practice emissions is an important commitment, and on a broader level, there are other solutions to minimise health risks.
‘Renewable energy is cheaper than coal and gas and doesn’t carry the disease burden that polluting fossil fuels do,’ she said.
‘Transport solutions that encourage active transport not only reduce greenhouse gasses but are beneficial for our cardiorespiratory systems and our mental health. 
‘As the gas crisis deepens, this RACGP resource serves as a timely reminder for the urgent need for us to take collective responsibility for the climate health emergency.
‘We have abundant climate solutions, and now is the time to take them up.’ 
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