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Decarbonizing Canadian Healthcare to Meet COP26 Commitments

At the November 2021 COP26 meeting in Glasgow, Canada committed to net-zero emissions by 2050. Healthcare is one of the top carbon emitters around the world and, in 2022, Parkin is prioritizing research into how healthcare infrastructure in Canada can do better. Using the Global Roadmap for Healthcare Decarbonization developed by Healthcare Without Harm as a catalyst for these investigations, we will leverage our extensive experience in institutional planning and develop strategies to tackle the decarbonization of new and existing healthcare facilities.  

Canadian healthcare facilities account for 5.2% of our overall carbon emissions, making us the 5th largest carbon emitters per capita out of 68 countries. Without action, our healthcare emissions footprint will triple by 2050. New healthcare facility design needs to play a key role in reducing carbon emissions if Canada is to meet its long-term commitments. From facility construction to healthcare delivery systems, interventions must be made if we are going to meet our COP26 targets. To get there, action needs to be taken today by reaching both short-term and long-term benchmarks.

Where is the Carbon in the Canadian Healthcare System?

When we think of carbon emissions, we tend to think about fossil fuel consumption. While fossil fuels play a major role in the size of our healthcare carbon footprint, other factors throughout the healthcare delivery trajectory also contribute to overall emissions. The Greenhouse Gas Protocol defines three emissions scope categories to assist with allocating and reporting GHG emissions at the corporate and supply chain levels.  As designers, we must consider the overall experience and well-being of the people in our buildings.  Improving patient outcomes and reducing the demand for high acuity healthcare will help mitigate the overall carbon footprint of the Canadian Healthcare System.

Three Emissions Scope Categories 

  • Scope One emissions include fossil fuel energy consumption. These can include onsite fuel use, the use of fleet or leased vehicles, and other emissions such as anaesthetics.
  • Scope Two emissions come from secondary providers, such as purchased electricity, where emissions happen offsite.
  • Scope Three emissions include all supply chain services and building materials. This piece accounts for a large portion of a facility’s emissions footprint and can include medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, waste, water, and sanitation.

Source: Karliner J, Slotterback S, Boyd R, Ashby B, Steele K. Health care’s climate footprint: How the health sector contributes to the global climate crisis and opportunities for action [Internet]. 2019 [cited] . Available from: [Ref list]pg.16

Implementing High-Impact Actions

Healthcare without Harm has identified several high-impact actions for healthcare decarbonization, including the integration of renewable energy, investing in zero emissions in building materials and infrastructure, transitioning to sustainable travel and transport, and implementing sustainable healthcare waste management.

The future of carbon-neutral healthcare in Canada requires design strategies that will address a facility’s life cycle, from materials used to how services are provided, to recapturing energy for re-use. By understanding clinical pathways and systemic carbon footprints, designers can help new and existing facilities implement the high-impact actions that will contribute to Canada meeting its COP26 zero-emissions commitments.

Designing for Net-Zero Healthcare

A healthcare facility needs to accommodate several user requirements, with special attention to patient and staff needs. Access to the facility, intuitive wayfinding, natural views, and preventing falls all play a part in ensuring that patient well-being is addressed.

Understanding the specific needs of patients and staff in a facility, while also delivering a net-zero emissions footprint, requires a highly specific design plan. This means establishing project goals and targets early in the design process. This initial commitment will inform all aspects of the design, including site selection, building with low-emissions or renewable products, designing for heat and cooling re-capture strategies and, importantly, sourcing from suppliers that are also committed to low-carbon emissions.

With so many moving parts, a solid design strategy is important to ensure that goals are being achieved.

Parkin’s Role in a Carbon-Neutral Future

Parkin Architects is well-positioned to respond to these initiatives. Our portfolio includes a number of notable LEED-certified projects with sustainable initiatives, and our design teams are committed to developing carbon-neutral solutions for the healthcare sector. An example is Corner Brook Acute Care Hospital which has the largest geothermal system serving Canadian healthcare in the country and is targeting zero emissions. Our long-term goal is to work with industry partners to develop strategies to ensure that no energy leaves the building.

With our clients, we establish project targets for embodied carbon as a means of impacting scope 3 emissions. Elements like heat pumps, for example, can reduce a building’s emissions by up to 70%. The Corner Brook facility is 100% heated by ground source energy which has a huge impact on energy efficiency.

High-quality, person-centred design continues to drive Parkin’s healthcare solutions. For the entire life cycle of the project, our designers work with clients and consultant teams to optimize building footprints and flows, improve efficiency of infrastructure, and reduce operating energy requirements to ensure that every part of a facility is meeting its decarbonization targets for construction and retrofit projects.  Our goal as a firm continues to be to design meaningful and enriching environments, that prioritize the overall health of the people who occupy our buildings, and our natural environment. 

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