Digital toolkit to drive net zero targets in the animal health sector

During and in the aftermath of climate emergencies, veterinarians deal with the impact of extreme weather on the health of our pets, livestock, and wildlife.

In 2019, a group of veterinary professionals created Vets for Climate Action (VfCA), an animal-centred and impact-driven not-for-profit organisation working to raise awareness and generate solutions to reduce carbon emissions and create a more environmentally sustainable animal health sector.

Today VfCA proudly represents over 2000 members of the veterinary profession and animal care community around Australia. The group’s innovative Climate Care Program (CCP) is set to substantially reduce carbon emissions from vet hospitals, zoos, and rescue facilities, assist the industry to reach its net zero commitments, and create a safer environment for animals.

With the help of $100,000 funding from the Advance Queensland Ignite Ideas program, VfCA plans to recruit additional staff to support the program’s expansion, increase participation at events and complete a trademark application to protect the growing VfCA brand.

We asked VfCA’s Acting Chief Executive Officer Stefany Goldring to tell us more about the Climate Care Program and the organisation’s goals for the future.

What inspired you to start Vets for Climate Action?

The impact of the changing climate on animals was the catalyst. Veterinarians are on the frontline, experiencing the impacts of the changing climate on Australia’s animals firsthand.

Vets see the devastating impacts that floods, droughts, bushfires, and heat stress have on animals. In 2019, a small group of veterinary professionals came together to establish a professional and staffed climate advocacy organisation. This core group recognised that each Australian sector and profession should act on climate to bring about meaningful change.

In the months that followed, Australia experienced the devastating loss of 3 billion animals in the Black Summer bushfires of 2019/2020. It became even more apparent that VfCA’s work would be vital to the health and welfare of Australia’s animals.

The Climate Care Program was developed by dedicated VfCA volunteers comprised of researchers, climate scientists, academics, educators, and veterinary professionals to create meaningful change, and meet industry demand for practical emission reduction strategies within veterinary clinics and hospitals.

What milestones have been reached?

From a standing start in 2019 with no resources or funding, VfCA now proudly represents over 2000 members of the veterinary profession and animal care community around Australia. We work alongside 33 former Chief Veterinary Officers and Senior Government Veterinarians which enables mutual exchange of knowledge and experience. We have an experienced board of esteemed veterinary practitioners and scientists, including Professor Mark Howden, Director of the Institute for Climate, Energy & Disaster Solutions at The Australian National University, and Vice Chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).

VfCA has made submissions to the government, met with federal and state politicians, written for and appeared in media across the country, and worked closely with industry partners to affect change across the profession.

Following two and a half years of development ‘by-vets, for-vets’ (through an advisory committee of experienced and respected researchers, climate scientists, academics, and veterinary professionals) our pilot Climate Care Program project took place in over 20 rural and metro vet hospitals.

The project resulted in a 50% reduction in overall clinic emissions in 12 months; reduced operating costs; and provided recruitment and retention opportunities for participants.

Additionally, the CCP became an accredited Continuing Professional Development (CPD) program for veterinarians and vet nurses to earn the necessary accreditation points to maintain their professional qualifications.

Which achievements are you most proud of?

To date, that our Climate Care Program is Australia’s first carbon emission reduction program for the animal health sector. In fact, our research shows it’s the only carbon reduction toolkit in the global health sector - human and animal – and it’s proven to reduce waste and protect resources:

  • 35% reduction in water usage
  • 47% reduction in waste going to landfill
  • Savings of up to 30% on water bills in one quarter

One participant even reported that their involvement in CCP influenced two job offer acceptances!

VfCA is proud that the program helps to create a healthy environment where animals and humans can thrive, contributing to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and meeting Australia's 2050 net-zero commitment. We are proud that our program is also helping to solve other industry-critical issues such as staff recruitment, retention, and development; mental health; and the profitability of participating hospitals in a challenging economy.

What are your business goals over the next two years?

Over the next year our goal is to attract 350 new veterinary clinics to the CCP in Australia, and at least 10 in New Zealand. With each participant paying the annual subscription fee the CCP will generate enough income to become self-sustaining. This will then allow us to invest in our staff and focus on expanding into international markets, including the UK and USA.

As the veterinary industry is almost identical to medical and dental practices and human hospitals in terms of their management and operations (staffing / client facing), clinical services (surgical / medical intervention) and ethical procedures and protocols we’re also keen to adapt the CCP for use in the human health sector.

How will you use your Ignite Ideas funding?

We’ll immediately begin recruiting for a new Head of Marketing and Communications to focus on our program growth strategy.

We’ll work with legal advisors to complete a trademark application to add a layer of protection to our intellectual property to safeguard the integrity and distinctiveness of CCP’s brand should other similar programs enter the market.

We’re also excited to be able to increase our presence at trade exhibitions, events, and regional agricultural shows. Event booths will provide visitors with access to the program portal, enabling them to engage with it in real-time. We’ll also increase our speaking opportunities to communicate the program's social, environmental, and economic impact.

How will this funding assist your business to grow and/or create jobs?

The Ignite funding will allow us to directly employ two new VfCA staff members during project delivery, including a Head of Marketing & Communications immediately, and a Business Development Manager at the end of the first 12 months.

The CCP supports participants to invest in improvements – by engaging renewable energy consultants; lighting retrofits; water flow regulators; connection of water tanks; and inventory management systems. Queensland-based participants are encouraged to purchase these services and equipment from local specialists, so they are investing in Queensland businesses and jobs.

CCP participants are also equipped with information to audit their suppliers and add collective pressure to invest in more sustainable packaging and transport. This industry-wide approach should contribute to new jobs in research, development, and manufacturing of more environmentally sustainable packaging as medical waste is a huge contributor to landfill in Australia.

Why would you recommend applying for funding through Advance Queensland programs?

We highly recommend applying for the Ignite Ideas Fund to provide the opportunity for your organisation to achieve its goals. The process allows you to distil and finesse your project’s plan for success, and the team’s feedback during the process is incredibly valuable. 

While of course the funding will allow you to commercialise your product and grow your business, it’s incredibly rewarding to have an external party agree that there is merit in your idea/s and have them recognised.

It has certainly provided us with the momentum and resources to continue what we know is important work.

Why is it important to support Queensland businesses, innovators, and entrepreneurs?

Supporting Queensland businesses, innovators and entrepreneurs means supporting Queensland and Queenslanders. It ensures that people (and resources) stay where they are needed. For example, in the veterinary profession, there is a shortage of veterinarians and vet nurses across Australia.

As a result, those seeking employment can almost choose their workplace to suit their needs and interests. Investing in Queensland will ensure the continued development of attractive and innovative products, services, and businesses, and ensure employers can recruit or retain skilled and talented workers where they are needed while supporting economic growth within the state.

What’s your advice for other entrepreneurs and businesses starting out on their innovation journey?

It’s important not to let perfection get in the way of progress! It’s easy to get caught in the details or focus on issues that might eventuate. Make sure to explore and build on your idea before you tear it down. We would also recommend seeking diverse thoughts and ideas - from people with different life experiences, backgrounds etc. Creating a safe and collegiate space for such thoughts to be voiced breeds innovation.

Find out more about Vets for Climate Action here.

Last updated 31 Aug, 2023
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