As a Public Health Nurse at the Gibsons Health Unit, Emily Doyle has been in her community talking to people of all ages and backgrounds about their health for the past 12 years. Increasingly, climate change and sustainability is coming up more in her work and in conversations with clients. She has observed that for a growing number of people in the health care sector, environmental sustainability is a concern in their professional and personal lives. From supporting families to adapt to the weather related impacts of climate change, to implementing sustainability practices in her office environment, Emily has initiated actions such as switching from paper printing to electronic resources, recycling vaccine packaging, and promoting carpooling, walking or cycling to work.
Health care is a large industry with a significant environmental impact,” notes Emily. “The planet is our primary health care system and we need to respect it.”
Witnessing a warming planet, increased pollution, the COVID pandemic and extreme weather events, as well as becoming a parent, have galvanized Emily into becoming a changemaker at work. Her passion for sustainability in health care took Emily to Victoria last November to attend the Public Health Association of BC’s Annual Conference, with full support from her manager Kristine Good. The conference topic was “Our Planet, Our Health: Creating Well-Being Societies and Making Peace with Nature.” This theme was inspired by recent World Health Organization and United Nations initiatives.
“I wanted to learn more and bring back some practical ways we can incorporate sustainability into our public health practice,” says Emily about attending the conference. To get her there, she reached out to the Green+Leaders program which provided a grant to cover her registration fee. The Green+Leaders program has opened new pathways for Emily to be a sustainability champion and care for the planet. Granting opportunities for continuing education is one way the Green+Leaders program provides recognition to members for the work they do to advance sustainability initiatives in their organization.
Emily found the conference to be a valuable learning and networking opportunity. She was particularly impressed by the emphasis on the importance of Indigenous knowledge and the need to integrate an eco-social approach into public health practice: “There’s so much to learn from Indigenous people with regards to how to be in relationship with the earth.” Emily left the conference inspired to “dismantle the colonial structures that reinforce white supremacy, exploitation, discrimination, racism, capitalism, violence, social-ecological destruction, and inequity.”
Emily’s willingness to learn and bring new ideas back to her community have led to positive changes in her workplace. Her goal now is to have discussions with her local public health team about the conference themes and apply it to their work with clients. As a result of Emily’s passion and advocacy, climate change and sustainability are standing agenda items in the Sunshine Coast Public Health Nursing meetings.
Recently, one of Emily’s colleagues in public health joined the Green+Leaders program and they plan to collaborate on sustainability initiatives. She hopes others will feel inspired and motivated to join the network, too.
Definitely join the Green+Leaders. It’s very inspirational to network with other people doing this work… I think it’s important to have hope when it comes to climate action.”
Emily’s example shows that with the right support, health care staff can start the conversation around planetary health and inspire others to take action towards a sustainable future.