At Ng Teng Fong General Hospital, operating theatres, which use up the most energy, are on “sleep mode” when they are not in use, reducing the air-conditioning needed.
The garden at Alexandra Hospital where clean food waste is composted and herbs are grown as ingredients for food. (Photo: NUHS)
SINGAPORE: Mr Ng Kian Swan works at a hospital, but his job doesn’t involve healing patients – it involves healing the environment.
The chief operating officer of Ng Teng Fong Hospital is on a mission to make the hospital greener by reducing water and energy consumption.
“Healthcare, although we heal patients, there is an interesting paradox … we use a lot of energy, we use a lot of consumables and that generates a lot of waste, a lot of carbon emissions,” he said.
“You heal the patients, but you are not healing the ecosystem.”
From small changes like turning up the air-conditioning temperature in rooms to disrupting the way things have been done for years, Mr Ng has been looking at all the things that contribute to the hospital’s footprint.
For instance, he used to get upset seeing employees wearing their sweaters in rooms that were too cold for comfort. The air-conditioning would be set at 18 degrees Celsius, making the outerwear necessary, he said.
“That upsets me a lot because I just can’t reconcile this.”
Mr Ng, who is chairperson of the water and energy task force at the National University Health System (NUHS) cluster level, changed the practice.
“All air-con temperatures in offices and some other areas are now set at 25 (degrees),” he said.
Mr Ng, has also decreased the usage of air-conditioning, an electricity guzzler, in other ways that he said disrupted “legacy processes”.
“In the good old days, people always thought that certain departments needed to run air-con 24/7, 365 (days). Actually it’s not true,” he said.
At Ng Teng Fong, departments like logistics and medical records office are air-conditioned only from 8am to 6pm. The residual coolness is good enough to support the department, said Mr Ng.
“This is one big change, a very radical change,” he said.
He also changed the way air-conditioning is used over the weekends, when fewer employees work. Previously, even if one employee goes to work in the corporate area, central air conditioning would be turned on.
Today, air-conditioning is not an option on weekends. If needed, employees are provided with a portable fan.
Another step on the greener path is turning operating theatres – of which there are 18 at NTFGH – to “sleep mode” when they are not in use, reducing the air-conditioning needed. These theatres use the most energy, Mr Ng said.
Another feature in the hospital is a solar system that converts natural sunlight into a heat source which is then used to generate 100 per cent of hot water supply to Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and Jurong Community Hospital, where Mr Ng is also chief operating officer.
In 2021, Mr Ng started measuring the energy and water consumption and carbon emission of every department with meters like those outside homes.
“When you want to drive efficiency, if there’s no data to show, nothing to compare, no trending to be done, then it will be doomed to fail, because of no visibility,” he said.
Mr Ng said he has seen results.
The amount of energy saved by Ng Teng Fong General Hospital in 2021 was enough to supply electricity to 4,809 four-room HDB flats for one year or power 18 operating theatres for about two-and-a-half years. The total carbon reduction achieved is equivalent to planting 143,663 tree seedlings grown for 10 years to be sequestered.
Another hospital under NUHS, Alexandra Hospital, is also making an effort to do its part for the climate, especially in terms of food waste.
Every day, 250kg of food waste is generated at the hospital, said Mr Jeffrey Chun, the hospital’s chief operating officer. He added that food makes up 10 per cent of total waste generated.
“Every patient that is sleeping on a bed generates about 1kg of (food) waste a day. In Alexandra Hospital today we have about 250 to 300 beds,” he said.
Across NUHS, the amount of food waste totals 2 tonnes, said Mr Chun, who chairs the NUHS waste and recycling committee.
Alexandra Hospital saves about 30 per cent of food waste that is considered clean – food that went untouched by patients. The bulk of such clean food waste goes to a company that uses black soldier flies.
“With black soldier flies, what they do is they take your food waste, the larva would eat it, then in turn, they produce waste,” said Mr Chun.
The waste becomes fertiliser for the growing of vegetables, herbs and spices in the hospital’s garden. Chilli, spinach and pandan leaves are grown and used in the preparation of patients’ food.
To better understand where the waste is coming from, the hospital brought in a vendor to conduct an audit, he said, adding that the biggest amount of waste in hospitals is typically paper, followed by plastics.
Mr Chun spent an afternoon clearing rubbish bins to find out what the situation is at Alexandra Hospital.
“Most of the cups are not empty. A lot of the weight is liquids and if we can find a way to get people to do the simple act of emptying their cups and throw, (it) would already reduce the waste by weight tremendously,” he said.
The hospital has also stopped using single-use plastics across departments, with even the pharmacy cutting out disposable plastic bags since last April.
Even textile waste is an issue being dealt with. Employees are issued seven sets of uniforms but this is too many for some. Instead, the hospital is changing to a system where credits can be used to draw what is needed and this will not be limited to the redemption of uniforms.
The hospital will also start collecting used uniforms, which along with used and damaged linen and bedsheets, will be given to two vendors for the potential conversion to paper and building materials.
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