Like every other election in recent history, farming and its environmental consequences have again become a political football, taking centre stage at our leaders debates and in the media. Unfortunately for farmers, their oversized impact on Aotearoa's environmental footprint means they're an easy out for political parties looking for a quick win.
Meanwhile, government healthcare bureaucrats have let out another collective sigh of relief. They're off scot free, yet again.
By inking the Zero Carbon Bill and banning oil and gas permits, our Government was meant to send a signal to all of our industries — from big laggards through to agile startups — to get their act together. So why has New Zealand's government-funded medical sector, which is responsible for as much as 8 per cent of our total emissions footprint, continued to ignore its own advice?
The answer is obfuscation. Hospitals across the country have been trying their best to put together sustainability programmes with limited resources, which are similar to what you'd find in any regular business. Recycling, keeping track of travel, and reporting the direct emissions output. Just enough to stay above water, but in reality none of it is nearly enough.
The current attempts may be on par with your average NZ company, but NZ's healthcare sector is a lot bigger than your average business. The sector received $19.871 billion in 2019/20, more annual revenue than our nation's largest company, Fonterra.
It's operating on 24 per cent of the country's annual tax take and yet there isn't a single Sustainability Officer in any executive leadership team in our national DHB system, despite many of these leadership teams boasting more than 10 people.
While the government has been busy virtue signaling their focus on environmental wellbeing, they've managed to sign off on 20 DHB annual plans, three years in a row, without even one sustainability-oriented c-suite role - in a sector employing more than 200,000 people.
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I believe this blatant environmental leadership vacuum can be directly correlated to some truly ineffectual GHG record-keeping. It's estimated that medical procurement - the importing of millions of dollars of devices and pharmaceuticals - accounts for around 61 per cent of the sector's emissions, which is around 6.6 million tonnes of CO2 equivalent emissions, per year. The Government hasn't even bothered recording these emissions since 2013.
The excuse for this apparent oversight in reporting is that the Government doesn't need to. All procurement emissions are by their nature Scope 3 emissions, and therefore are exempt from necessary reporting. Scope 3 refers to indirect emissions aside from energy that occur in a company's value chain - and these don't have to be accounted for. So should we really be satisfied with a government content with doing the bare minimum for the environment?
By splitting the healthcare sector into the mind-numbing combination of the Ministry of Health, 20 DHBs and more peripheral agencies than you could shake a stick at, the publicly funded healthcare sector has managed to make its shocking environmental record disappear into a tornado of paperwork.
Politicians know all this. Or, they should at least. But healthcare has become the dirty dishes in the sink that every politician - blue, red, green, yellow, or purple - can't bring themselves to start cleaning. Sure, they'll throw another billion in to fuel the big engine, but making it run efficiently - environmentally or otherwise - seems to be perpetually off the table.
Human-induced climate change is the largest existential threat the world faces. Our Government understands that, which is why they introduced the forward-thinking Zero Carbon Bill, so now we need more than lip service. If the public sector is going to convince struggling industries to turn their entire business models around for the sake of environmentalism, shouldn't the Government be walking the talk too? Our grimy healthcare sector wouldn't be a bad place to start.
• Oliver Hunt is the chief executive of Medsalv, formed in 2017 to combat the high level of waste produced in New Zealand's healthcare system