Winning hearts and minds key to climate change response

5 November 2021

A Wellington GP is facing the climate change crisis head-on by embracing the principles of ‘think globally, act locally’ at her Newtown clinic.

College Fellow Dr Angharad Dunn brought her passion for environmental sustainability to Newtown Union Health Service a few years ago and found a kindred spirit in colleague Dr Phil Dashfield.

“We both felt and understood the urgency and need to respond to the changes happening globally as a result of the way human beings live,” she says. “But there was also a sense of ‘gosh, where do we start?’”

The pair asked the team if anyone else would like to get involved in making the practice a more environmentally aware place to work, and nurses Cathy and Marcia came on board to form the clinic’s Environment Committee.

“The first thing we did was haul out our environment policy, which was well over 10 years old and totally irrelevant to what’s happening globally now,” remembers Angharad. “We rewrote it in a way that people could engage and become familiar with, so it became very much part of the mindset of the way we worked and cared for our patients.

“Aside from directives such as how we dealt with waste, the policy also contains general advice to incorporate ‘avoid, reduce, reuse, recycle’ into all our decision making. For example, when proposing spend on equipment, we include the environmental cost as a consideration. We also promote the concept of using active or public transport to travel to and from work.” 

Even small actions such as encouraging cleaners to empty rubbish bins into one large bag, instead of taking the plastic bin liner every time are a step in the right direction.

Angharad says that there are opportunities for change everywhere if you just look for them.

“One stand-out area for any clinic is medical waste – as a profession single-use, disposal instruments and PPE are now the norm with the mindset that use and throw away is somehow cleaner and therefore better.

Angharad advises that the key to facilitating positive change is ensuring you have the buy- from staff, and the best way to do that is to ask for their opinion and feedback on any proposed initiatives.

“We all have to work together on this, by engaging fully with the workforce, the ethos you want to promote can spill over into home life. And then suddenly, tangible change is happening!

“There are lots of different ways to make a difference – you just have to pick a place to start.”