Our Work Sustainable Health Care

Sustainable Health Care

The Canberra Hospital expansion to be powered entirely by renewables. Source: Canberra Times


The carbon footprint of Australia’s healthcare sector is estimated at over 7% of Australia’s total emissions. While every sector needs to play its part to limit global warming and environmental degradation, the healthcare sector has an added responsibility (and opportunity) to lead mitigation of emissions and environmental impacts.

Guided by the principle, ‘first do no harm’ it is beholden on the healthcare sector to be part of the solution and urgently ‘get its own house in order.’

Of health care’s 7% contribution to Australian carbon emissions, hospitals are responsible for 44%, pharmaceuticals 19%, capital expenditure 8%, community and public health 6% and general practice 4%. Beyond carbon emissions, healthcare is a significant contributor to waste products and natural resource consumption, threatening our present and future health.

Doctors for the Environment Australia has been working for over a decade to address healthcare sector’s carbon footprint and environmental impact and to highlight the added health and financial co-benefits of healthcare sector action.

Net zero carbon emissions for the Australian healthcare sector

Our report outlines why the Australian healthcare sector has a responsibility to urgently reduce its carbon footprint and recommendations to achieve this.

MJA Insight+ published an article on this initiative.

Required emission reduction targets:

  • An interim emission reduction target of 80% by 2030
  • Net zero emissions by 2040

DEA and the Australian Medical Association have formally agreed to work together to advocate for, and support, a transition to environmentally sustainable practice within the health sector including a national Sustainable Healthcare Unit and net zero emissions by 2040.

Organisations that have endorsed healthcare emission reduction targets of 80% by 2030 and net zero emissions by 2040 can be found here.

An open letter to the Prime Minister in April 2021 included support for these emission reduction targets and a national Sustainable Healthcare Unit from numerous groups.

DEA National Sustainable Healthcare Unit Proposal

A national Sustainable Healthcare Unit (nSHU) (September 2021)

DEA’s submission on the National Climate and Health Strategy(July 2023)

DEA supports the development of national Sustainable Healthcare Unit to coordinate environmentally sustainable initiatives in health care and reduce its carbon footprint.

It would: standardise and benchmark the measurement of carbon emissions; develop a road map for, and assist implementation of, emission reductions and sustainability best practices and; ensure successful implementation of sustainable healthcare initiatives at state, regional, health organisation / network, hospital and practice levels.

All Electric Hospital Builds 

DEA members have been working to ensure that new hospital capital projects across Australia will be all-electric (no gas infrastructure for new hospitals or capital work upgrades).

We have developed the DEA: All Electric Hospital Guide which outlines practical steps for health professionals to advocate for all electric new hospital builds to ensure we protect and promote the health of our patients.

The Victorian Government has recently announced that all new homes public buildings and hospitals (from January 2024) will be all-electric in design. This is a fantastic forward step for decarbonising Australia’s energy needs. More information on the announcement here: https://www.premier.vic.gov.au/new-victorian-homes-go-all-electric-2024

A list of all-electric hospitals that are planned in Australia can be found here.

GreenCollege Guidelines

DEA and the AMA have developed the GreenCollege Guidelines document for medial colleges, specialities, societies, councils and associations to lead by example through incorporating changes to operations that will assist in transforming the healthcare sector to net zero emissions. Supporting organisations can be found here.

Sustainable Conference Guide

Conferences for healthcare professionals aim to improve health outcomes worldwide yet they also contribute to global warming and pollution. This guide document offers a handy checklist to make your next event more sustainable.

Sustainable Health Care Resources

Net Zero Emissions: Responsibilities, pathways and opportunities

Proposal for a National Sustainable Healthcare Unit

DEA: All Electric Hospital Guide

GreenCollege Guidelines: Reducing the environmental impact of your medical colleges, specialty, society, council and association

Improving a hospital’s environment impact: what can a doctor do? A practical guide to achieving change


Net Zero Emissions for Australia’s healthcare sector (March 2021)

Sustainable menstrual products (December 2020)

Presentations and videos

Webinar recording: Climate Change and Sustainability: Leadership and Action from Australian Doctors, August 2022

Webinar recording: Climate Change and Sustainability: Leadership and Action from Australian Doctors, September 2021

Environmental Sustainability & Healthcare: What do health Professionals Need to Know?, July 2018

Other useful resources

Doctors for the Environment Sustain Health Facebook Page

NHS Progressing Towards Net-Zero Commitment

See more of our work on sustainable healthcare