From 1995-2003, the number of Chief Sustainability Officers (CSO) employed by US companies doubled. It doubled again between 2003-2008. The Global Financial Crisis (GFC) dampened enthusiasm a little but, once the economy began to recover, companies started hiring sustainability officers at a keen pace, building out whole sustainability teams with designated staff for different aspects of the role. 

Exactly what they did depended on the company’s level of commitment. When Serafeim and Miller surveyed 66 de facto and official CSOs in 27 industries, they found that companies are often engaged in sustainability at one of three stages:

  • Compliance: The first stage involved non-strategic activities required to comply with regulations, often accompanied by localised grassroots ‘green’ activities led by keen employees. Organisations rarely have a CSO in place at this point.  
  • Efficiency: There’s an internal focus at this stage. Companies take easy first steps that most people are willing to do, such as reducing waste or reducing energy use. Often, this also saves money – something that makes everyone happy! During this stage, companies often hire a CSO, who is tasked with developing and driving the sustainability strategy. The CSO often concentrates responsibilities at this stage to ensure a unified way forward. 
  • Innovation: Some companies succeed in integrating sustainability into their core business in ways that transform the company. The CSO may delegate more and more sustainability responsibilities at this stage, making each business unit accountable for its actions. The focus widens to include external suppliers and the company begins to influence sustainability throughout its supply chains. 

Many companies found themselves stuck in the efficiency phase. They had reformed their own internal processes but were afraid to be more ambitious. A capable CSO can make a real difference here.  

Sustainability in healthcare

Hospitals are large organisations. In small towns, the local hospital may be the largest single employer. Big cities usually boast several different tertiary or quaternary referral centres that employ thousands of staff and treat significant numbers of patients throughout the year. 

The hospital estate is always buzzing. A non-stop operation that does a great deal of good but guzzles a great deal of power in the process. Indeed, when researchers at the University of Sydney’s School of Physics investigated the carbon footprint attributed to health care, they found it represented 7% of Australia’s total, with hospitals and pharmaceuticals the major contributors.

The Victorian government’s Department of Health and Human Services found that up to 60% of a health service’s total carbon footprint is related to the embodied carbon within the goods and services it uses every day through:

  • Procurement of goods and services
  • Energy use
  • Transport of staff, visitors, patients and suppliers
  • Generation of waste.

Hospitals, state health departments and the federal government are now investing in various measures to reduce their emissions and increase their resilience. 

Increasingly, there’s a recognition that someone has to spearhead such work – after all, that’s why the federal government is establishing a National Health Sustainability and Climate Unit, as announced in the October 2022-23 budget. 

At the local hospital level, one key step is hiring a sustainability officer. 

Sustainability officers in hospitals

You’re probably familiar with the story of Everybody, Somebody, Anybody and Nobody. They’re a group of people who failed to accomplish an important task because they each assumed one of the others would do it and did not hold themselves or each other accountable. 

There was an important job to be done and Everybody was sure that Somebody would do it. Anybody could have done it, but Nobody did it. Somebody got angry about that, because it was Everybody’s job. Everybody thought Anybody could do it, but Nobody realised that Everybody wouldn’t do it. It ended up that Everybody blamed Somebody when Nobody did what Anybody could have.

In a nutshell, that’s why your hospital needs a sustainability officer. You need someone to take the reins. Someone who champions organisational change and translates high-level plans into one-the-ground actions. Someone who ensures your hospital reduces its carbon footprint and improves its resilience regarding extreme weather events and other effects of climate change.  

What exactly does a hospital sustainability officer do? 

A sustainability officer helps your hospital achieve its mission while minimising its environmental impact and maximising its resilience to climate change. 

There are several elements to a sustainability officer’s role: 

  1. Organisational change: Championing sustainability within your hospital and helping staff change behaviour or get onboard with new initiatives until sustainability is seen as a core part of your hospital’s mandate. 
  2. Compliance: Ensuring your hospital complies with any sustainability regulations that you must follow.  
  3. Progressively achieving best practice: Benchmarking then developing and/or implementing a strategic and staged approach to achieve optimal environmental outcomes with regard to energy, waste, water, procurement, transport and capital works, for example. 

A successful sustainability officer needs a strong set of skills to improve your hospital’s sustainability performance without negatively affecting other aspects of its performance. 

When recruiting a sustainability officer, look for someone with: 

  • A commitment to environmental protection
  • Strong analytical skills
  • Creative thinking and problem-solving skills
  • Project management skills
  • Skills and experience in leading and influencing others and in driving organisational change
  • Excellent communication skills
  • High numeracy and literacy 
  • Knowledge of relevant environmental legislation, policy and guidelines
  • Keen awareness of health and safety issues
  • Risk management skills
  • An understanding of capital works (in Victoria, sustainability consultants are required on all projects costing more than $15 million). 

Sustainability in capital works

Renovation may be needed as part of a planned upgrade or in response to damage sustained during extreme weather or another event. 

Your sustainability officer will be keen to ensure that capital works follow best practice in environmental sustainability and create an environment where patients and staff can thrive. 

Whether you’re planning a refurbishment or responding to a calamity, mobile and modular facilities offer a sustainable way forward. 

It’s largely because of these environmental benefits that the global modular market is doing so well. With modular buildings now used in healthcare, residential and commercial, the market is expected to grow by 50% from 2021-2028

Mobile and modular facilities:

  • Reduce construction waste – by over 80% in one Australian study  
  • Create fewer emissions during construction
  • Offer a modern environment that meets all relevant standards
  • Provide an opportunity for biophilic design.

Mobile and modular facilities can also be up and running far more quickly than a conventional build. While the hospital down the road is teeming with construction workers, your staff have moved on to providing excellent patient care in a new, bespoke facility. 

If you’d like to learn more about sustainable practices through mobile and modular solutions, please contact Q-bital Healthcare Solutions.