By Siemi Prithvi Raj: SANBS Executive of Transfusion Donor Services and Marketing
Protecting the environment and saving our planet is a shared responsibility. It requires everyone from households to business and the government to do their bit in their orbits.
It is never too late to start and every contribution, no matter how small, makes a difference to overall global greening efforts. The journey of a thousand steps, as the Chinese say, begins with the first step, and when it comes to climate change it can start with either reducing, re-using or recycling waste at home or at the office.
The healthcare sector, while pivotal to the well-being of society, contributes to climate change in various ways, including the creation of hazardous waste, use of toxic metals such as mercury, and water and air pollution.
Four years ago, to mitigate the effects of healthcare provision on the deteriorating environment, SANBS made a commitment to reduce the organisation’s impact in line with the United Nations 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Through its Greening Task Team, comprised of a cross section of staff and managers, the Service has developed five sustainability objectives to counter its impact on the environment.
The efforts encompass conserving energy; optimising water consumption; managing air and land pollution; responsible procurement, by ensuring the lowest environmental impact for products and services procured by SANBS and that the organisation’s owned buildings are built and operated in an environmentally sustainable way.
Carbon emissions, particularly those related to our building energy use, represent one of our most significant environmental impacts. Monthly electricity consumption statistics obtained from real-time monitoring devices on our greening dashboard help us monitor consumption and respond accordingly. SANBS aims to reduce the use of electricity from the national grid by decreasing electricity waste, installing energy efficient bulbs and by always switching off lights when not required, along with any equipment not in use.
For 2020-2021, SANBS’s overall carbon emission presented from the data collected was almost 20 000 tonnes, an overall reduction of 11 % on the previous year. While most of this was attributable to a decrease in electricity consumption and business travel, we have decided to keep some of the COVID-19 imposed restrictions which heightened our awareness to wastage and unnecessary use of resources.
Since the lockdown, SANBS has seen considerably fewer flights and business travel being undertaken and we expect this situation to continue – contributing towards our greening objectives. The pandemic provided an ideal opportunity for the use of technology such as video conferencing and enabled us to audit and monitor our labs remotely, thus ensuring we remained connected with our teams and maintained the required quality standards.
The relocation of the KwaZulu Natal headquarters from Pinetown to Mount Edgecombe was a successful highlight for us on our greening journey. The new facility is fully equipped with solar energy and borehole water. To reduce municipal water consumption in our operations, we have deployed the use of rainwater harvesting technologies and boreholes at our owned properties and we track the consumption and respond accordingly.
In accordance with legislation, our waste is managed in a sustainable manner following the waste hierarchy of Prevention, Reuse, Recycle, Recovery and Disposal, to reduce the waste discarded and sent to landfills and the resultant carbon emissions. We are working to prevent or minimise the disposal of trade effluent in keeping with local bylaws.
General waste is separated into 14 categories ranging from cardboard and newspapers to plastic. At some of the larger SANBS sites, a service provider has been engaged to separate general waste for recycling and minimal landfill disposal of electronic waste according to the guidelines published by the Electronic Waste Association of South Africa.
Significant effort has been made to improve recording of waste data from our two main waste streams – general (office type) waste and biomedical waste from our operations. This has enabled us to better manage and control our waste outputs and to focus our waste management attention on prevention, reuse, recycling, recovery, and disposal. We have reduced the use of paper by migrating most of our documents online with ease of access on mobile devices, laptops or PCs. Spent cartridges are also recycled.
The Task Team’s awareness and education to workers around environmental matters is ongoing with staff through communication on different greening topics including waste segregation, solar energy, water conservation, rainwater harvesting and use of low energy and sensor lights.
The journey to greening the earth is one close to my heart and one which I champion both at home and at work. I know we are still a long way off from where we want to be in offsetting our carbon footprint but we are encouraged with the progress thus far.
As we strive to build a cleaner earth for future generations, let us all make the effort to do one thing everyday towards conserving our environment.