UnitingCare is committed to protecting the environment, and using energy and resources wisely. Our sustainability ethos is embedded in our foundations as the health and community service provider of the Uniting Church—in 1977, the Uniting Church in Australia’s inaugural Statement to the Nation advocated for the wise use of energy and protection of the environment. This commitment to stewardship has been reaffirmed and strengthened through statements such as the 2018 Whole of Creation, which supports strong and specific actions to tackle climate change.
At UnitingCare, we recognise that the health and wellbeing of our residents, patients, clients and staff is inextricably linked to the health of our planet. We recognise that our mission to improve the wellbeing of individuals, families and communities must extend beyond frontline services – we must also promote and preserve a healthy environment, by reducing our carbon footprint, improving resource efficiency, enabling climate resilience, and greening our built environments.
UnitingCare’s Environmental Sustainability Strategy 2021-2025 outlines six focus areas, each underpinned by tangible goals that support our vision to create a healthier, fairer, and greener world.
- Reduce fleet fuel usage to 4.5 litres per 100 km
- Transition to 100% hybrid and electric passenger fleet
- Divert from landfill 30% of the non-clinical waste we generate
- Reduce waste generation by 5% at our hospitals and aged care facilities
- Reduce our carbon footprint by 70%
- Source 100% of our electricity from renewable energy
Greening UCQ is our internal sustainability program, which captures the multitude of initiatives we are implementing to reduce our impacts across energy, emissions, waste and water. Recent examples include:
- Commenced a major roll-out of rooftop solar in May 2022, with 2.4 megawatts being installed across 19 BlueCare aged care facilities.
- Completed a two-year climate change adaptation research project, funded by the Qld Department of Environment and Science, and delivered in partnership with the University of Sunshine Coast and Griffith University. This project delivered a model aged care facility Heat Mitigation Adaptation Plan and supporting toolkit on ‘green infrastructure’ — like trees, water features and shade sails — and its impact on residents’ health and wellbeing during extreme heat events.
- Embedded sustainability clauses in UnitingCare’s standard tenant lease agreement, including separate metering for energy and water, provision of commingle recycling service, and requirement for cleaning contract to comply with recycling programs.
- Introduced food organics recycling at The Wesley Hospital; this helped divert an extra 19 tonnes (2% of the hospital’s total waste footprint) from landfill in 2021-22.
- Digitised BlueCare’s new employee starter pack, avoiding approximately 90,000 sheets of printed paper per year.
- When it came time to replace gym mats at St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital, the existing mats were donated to Brisbane State High School’s rowing sheds, which were impacted by the 2022 floods.
- Added 254 new hybrid and 8 electric vehicles (replacing internal combustion engine vehicles), which – as of July 2022 – make up 67% of our passenger fleet.
- Travel-related emissions have decreased by 17% since 2018-19, driven by significant improvements in UnitingCare’s vehicle fuel efficiency and a step-wise reduction in road mileage. Despite these operational improvements, 2021-22 saw an increase in travel-related emissions compared to the previous year’s record low. This is mainly due to an Australia-wide increase in fuel emissions intensity, reflecting the higher proportion of imported fuel now being sold in Australia.
- As pandemic-related travel restrictions eased, UnitingCare staff increased air travel. However, this still represents a 43% reduction on 2019-20, in line with UnitingCare’s internal corporate travel policy which targets a 30% reduction in travel and travel-related expenses.
- Reduced the carbon footprint of general anaesthesia through practitioners choosing to use the climate-friendlier sevoflurane gas instead of desflurane. This represents 1,215 tCO2e avoided in 2021-22 when compared to 2018-19 baseline emissions.
- Hospitals and BlueCare sites transitioned from liquid to solid detergent, targeting a reduction of 714kg plastic packaging waste per year.
- St Andrew’s War Memorial Hospital furnished their revamped staff courtyard with Replas benches and tables made from 53,250 pieces of recycled plastic packaging and Kimguard (blue sterile wrap).
- Trialled a new ‘Green Fund’, supporting the Cairns Family & Disability Services Green Team to implement a workplace food composting initiative.
- Embedded environmental sustainability expectations and information into UnitingCare’s employee Orientation Handbook.
- UnitingCare’s annual Full Circle & Reconciliation Awards celebrate our staff and volunteers who go above and beyond in their work. The ‘Go for Green’ award category recognises our sustainability changemakers who promote new ways to reduce our environmental footprint.
- Commenced work on a climate risk framework, including a staff workshop to understand the impacts of climate change on the organisation and to identify and prioritise climate risks. This resulted in climate change being added to UnitingCare’s enterprise risk register.
- Concluded a heatwave community outreach project, which was funded by the Department of Environment and Science to reduce health impacts of heatwaves for elderly community members. The project delivered new industry resources including: Expanded Environment and Emergency Response Checklist; Heat Preparedness & Response Plan; Heat health e-learning module; Heat health resource and communications package.
- Co-developed the Uniting Church Queensland Synod’s ‘A Flourishing Creation’ 2030 Sustainability Action & Advocacy Plan. This articulates the shared position, aspirations and priorities of the church, schools and service groups in responding to the environmental challenges faced by our communities.