Healthcare

Healthcare systems are large contributors to national carbon footprints, due to their water and energy intensive practices. Hospitals also consume a sizable amount of hazardous and non-hazardous materials that produce polluting emissions.

Progress Towards Net Zero

Hospitals, doctors’ surgeries and healthcare supply chains can support the net zero movement by not only decarbonising their own practices, but taking responsibility for the emissions generated by their partners.

For example, health systems like Kaiser Permanente (USA) and Blacktown Hospital in New South Wales, Australia have shifted from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. These hospitals are just a few of hundreds of healthcare practices around the world that are implementing net zero strategies, including energy conservation, emissions reductions and carbon off-setting ventures, such as planting trees.

FURTHER INVESTMENT INTO NET ZERO PROJECTS, ALONG WITH STRONGER INDUSTRY STANDARDS FOR SUSTAINABLE INVESTMENTS ARE NEEDED TO PUSH The HEALTHCARE SECTOR TOWARDS GREATER CLIMATE ACTION.

 

Net zero healthcare case studies

KAISER PERMANENTE

Kaiser Permanente has been committed to environmental stewardship for the past two decades. In 2016 the organization announced an ambitious goal to become carbon neutral in 2020, along with several other bold goals to reduce its climate impact. 

St Vincent’s Health

Since 2015-16, St Vincent’s Health Australia has been rolling out a National Energy Action Program (NEAP) across its 16 hospitals and 20 aged care facilities to slash its carbon emissions.

Gundersen Health System

Gundersen Health System developed a portfolio of innovative energy efficiency and renewable energy projects intended to lower costs, encourage community partnerships, and reduce the organization’s environmental footprint.

Key Challenges

 

The health sector directly and indirectly releases greenhouse gases while delivering care and procuring products, services and technologies from a carbon-intensive supply chain. Healthcare contributes to greenhouse gas emissions through energy consumption, transport, and product manufacture, use, and disposal.

Healthcare climate action that aligns with the ambitions of the Paris Agreement will require health sector facilities, systems, and ministries to work with manufacturers and suppliers of healthcare goods and services to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 or before.

If health sector growth and investment is coupled with a new trajectory to zero emissions, the carbon footprint of healthcare could decrease significantly even as health spending grows. Such a scenario would link health sector development goals (such as universal health coverage) with global climate targets.

 

A picture of wheat fields in Ukraine.

Image of medical team operating on survivor on cyclone in Mozambique. © European Union 2019 (photographer: Christian Jepsen)

Net Zero Innovations for Healthcare

Upstream solutions
  • Undertaking measures to influence suppliers and others up the value chain in order to improve environmental performance.
  • Adopting ‘green purchasing’ i.e. purchasing strategies leading to the consumption of more environmentally friendly products. 
Downstream solutions
  • Creating a long-term vision for the implementation of advanced health technologies.
  • Investing in e-health digital infrastructure to help to reduce air pollution through;

Reductions in service use (e.g. in estimates of “avoided” bed days or energy used in hospital buildings, procurement etc) and reductions in transport – usually for patients and occasionally staff.

Environmentally responsible production
  • Investing in sustainable energy infrastructure such as solar, hydroelectric, or other renewable sources in order to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. 
  • Purchasing energy collected from wind, hydroelectric, biomass, or solar sources.
  • Redirecting utility savings to fund investments in energy efficiency measures. See Global Green and Healthy Hospitals.
  • Introducing routines during the use stage that lead towards consumption reduction and improved waste management
  • Improving, or replacing energy-inefficient building systems with greener alternatives.
  • Substituting energy-inefficient machines with greener alternatives.
  • Using 100% recycled paper and cut back on paper-based practices to lessen the negative impact of the paper industry and prevent unnecessary deforestation. For example, 97% of healthcare invoices in the Netherlands are digital.
  • Investing in digital technologies to streamline administrative practices and manage medical processes. 

Net Zero Policy for Healthcare

The WHO has called for health systems to “lead by example, advancing models of low-carbon health care,” suggesting that “a low-carbon development path for health systems and ultimately a transition to net-zero emissions is essential for health sector facilities to meet the goal of the Paris Agreement of maintaining global warming below 2.0 °C or 1.5 °C.”

Introduce net zero guidelines

Health ministries should produce a guidance that outlines actions that health facilities and health systems can take to reduce their climate footprint and become more resilient.

Invest in and advocate for the decarbonization of energy systems

Health policies should aim to create an environment for health institutions to invest in the decarbonization of their energy systems.

Effective policies can help assure that the health sector invests in a low-carbon, climate-resilient health development model. Such actions will help establish a trajectory toward net zero emissions while strengthening health systems and promoting health access.

Decarbonize the healthcare supply chain

Health ministries should set criteria for low-carbon or zero emissions procurement, including everything from pharmaceuticals to medical devices, from hospital food to clothing.

A picture of wheat fields in Ukraine.

Image of doctor examining patient in aftermath of 2010 Pakistan floods. DFID/Russell Watkins.

Why Net Zero?

Beyond reducing emissions from hospitals and supply chains, there are a number of benefits that health institutions and society can reap from net zero healthcare.

  • Health systems have a responsibility to implement the Hippocratic Oath, to “first, do no harm” as it relates to its own climate footprint, while influencing other sectors to do the same.
  • Switching to renewable sources of energy can provide healthcare institutions with a financial benefit in the form of reduced utilities and equipment costs.
  • Implementing climate mitigation policies (e.g. a green procurement strategy) will contribute to improved health conditions for healthcare workers and citizens in general.
  • Net zero emissions can help limit the occurrence of extreme weather events and climate catastrophes that often strain health systems.