Canterbury DHB turns to biomass to reduce emissions

Climate change is already affecting the health and well being of our global community, with experts highlighting heatwaves, extreme weather events, changing patterns of infectious disease and impacts on our agricultural systems. Healthcare professions are keenly aware of the impact of climate change on their sector, and in New Zealand are at the forefront positive action to reduce carbon emissions.

Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) is one of those organisations taking action, and their emissions reduction efforts saw them named a finalist in the Excellence in Climate Action (large organisation) category at the 2019 Toitū Envirocare (formerly Enviro-Mark Solutions) Awards.

CDHB is now in the fifth year of measuring their carbon emissions through Toitū carbonreduce (formerly CEMARS). They face the challenge of being both very large and very complex, with more than 11,000 staff who services roughly 576,000 New Zealanders, across an area stretching north of Kaikoura to south of Ashburton. CDHB also partially funds 122 general practices, 111 community pharmacies, a range of home-based care providers, and 70 NGOs, as well as specialist mental health services, public health and hospitals.

However, starting the Toitū carbonreduce programme revealed that 50 percent of CDHB’s emissions came from only one source - coal burned in the Ashburton, Christchurch and Burwood Hospital boilers, which power essential hospital services including hot water and heating. So when the opportunity became available through the Burwood Hospital rebuild, the senior leadership team jumped at the chance to invest in a biomass boiler.

Canterbury DHB Chief Executive David Meates in Burwood Hospital’s biomass energy plant.

Canterbury DHB Chief Executive David Meates in Burwood Hospital’s biomass energy plant.

The investment has paid off - the Burwood boiler-replacement project accounts for the majority of the 9,737 tonnes of carbon saved by the CDHB in the 2017/18 year.

“The main impact is in energy use reductions and dramatically reduced greenhouse gas emissions”, says Canterbury DHB’s Energy Manager Tim Emson, who also notes that the Toitū carbonreduce certification project has been an opportunity to increase staff engagement.

“Many of our staff are very environmentally aware and the information gained from Toitū carbonreduce has been useful in helping inform staff about where our green environmental initiatives are happening.” CDHB are working with their staff to explore other ways to reduce the organisation’s emissions.

Tim also credits Toitū carbonreduce certification for identifying where the biggest sources of greenhouse gas emissions are occurring. “They are not always where you think they will be.”

Replacing the boiler at Burwood has set a precedent for similar projects at the CDHB’s other sites.  “We have a project underway to do this at Christchurch Hospital and another to use high temperature ground source heat pumps at Ashburton Hospital that will eliminate coal use at Canterbury DHB by the end of 2021,” says Tim.

Fuel to be used in Burwood Hospital’s biomass energy plant.

Fuel to be used in Burwood Hospital’s biomass energy plant.

Switching to biomass at Christchurch Hospital will prevent almost 20,000 tonnes of CO2 being released into the atmosphere each year.

Reducing their emissions has also proved to be a valuable pathway for collaboration. New Zealand’s 20 district health boards are not obligated to reduce their carbon emissions, but through the Sustainable Health Sector National Network they are working together to maximise their collective impact.

“Because this process is being used by other DHBs it allows us to compare environmental footprints and think about ways we can all do better together”, says Tim.

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Toitū Envirocare’s Toitū carbonreduce and Toitū carbonzero certifications are currently available in 17 countries and the certification marks are recognised in over 60 countries, making it ideal for companies working in global supply chains or exporting products. Toitū carbonreduce and Toitū carbonzero certification are accredited by the Joint Accreditation System of Australia and New Zealand and were the world’s first carbon certification programme to be accredited under ISO 14065. Toitū Envirocare also offer the only carbon neutral product certification to PAS 2050 outside of the UK.