HEALTHCARE & SUSTAINABILITY – TACKLING SUSTAINABILITY ISSUES IN HEALTHCARE
Healthcare practitioners and facilities all over the globe are responsible for sustaining and improving the health of billions, yet their contribution to environmental decline threatens welfare.
Globally, healthcare has a climate footprint of between 1% and 5%, and the statistic is above 5% for some nations. Many people are aware of the impacts that pollution has on the environment, but few may think to look directly at the healthcare sector. Unfortunately, a lot of people in leadership and decision-making positions will make the environmental impact of healthcare services an afterthought.
Left unchecked and unchanged, the environmental footprint of healthcare will continue to grow negatively. However, new sustainable healthcare techniques and practices could transform the health, welfare and futures of communities worldwide.
WHY IS SUSTAINABILITY IMPORTANT?
Sustainability protects our ecosystem, conserves valuable natural resources and improves the quality of our lives.
If harmful processes continue, humans will face issues that directly impact their health, including increased severity and frequency of respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, deaths related to adverse weather events and a lack of resources.
Sustainability will help improve air quality, ensure resources can be replenished, protect water cleanliness and slow down the changes to our planet’s temperature.
WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY IN HEALTHCARE?
Healthcare is a large economic sector and employer in many countries and accounts for approximately 10% of the world’s economy. Changes must be made to promote sustainability by health sector leaders with a practical and ethical responsibility to measure, monitor and address the issue.
Sustainability in healthcare facilities covers different areas, including:
- Constructing and managing healthcare facilities in a sustainable way
- Creating sustainable healthcare processes
- Enforcing daily sustainable practices for healthcare facilities and providers
- Using the purchasing power of the healthcare industry to make sure products and services are produced ethically and sustainably
Overall, sustainability in healthcare comes down to a straightforward notion: offer safe, affordable and good healthcare without negatively impacting communities, the environment and the stability of resources.
WHAT ARE THE BIGGEST RISKS TO SUSTAINABILITY IN HEALTHCARE?
The environmental impacts caused by healthcare material production and healthcare provision include greenhouse gas emissions, air pollutants, water pollution and large quantities of waste (often hazardous).
Carbon emissions from healthcare facilities and staff are created through energy consumption, transport and product manufacture, use and disposal. These have always been issues associated with the sector, but the COVID-19 pandemic exposed healthcare-related issues on a massive scale.
Since the pandemic began, over 140 million test kits with a potential to generate 2,600 tonnes of non-infectious waste (mainly plastic) and 731,000 litres of chemical waste have been shipped. Over 11 billion doses of vaccine have been administered globally, producing tens of thousands of tonnes of additional waste in the form of syringes, needles and safety boxes.
Discarded PPE and over 25,000 tons of pandemic-associated plastic waste have entered the oceans since the pandemic began, causing widespread damage to marine organisms and aquatic ecosystems.
This extra medical waste from the response to the COVID-19 pandemic has put tremendous strain on healthcare waste management systems around the world and nature. However, the COVID pandemic has also been a catalyst for change. It has exposed a dire need to improve waste management practices and other aspects of healthcare.
International leaders and a high percentage of the population recognise that worsening environmental conditions will increase the potential for more epidemics and pandemics. Additionally, the ongoing waste challenge and increasing urgency to address environmental sustainability offer an opportunity to strengthen systems to safely and sustainably reduce and manage processes.
TECHNIQUES FOR PROMOTING SUSTAINABILITY IN HEALTHCARE
Sustainable practices are important for several reasons, from addressing public health threats due to climate change to reducing the carbon footprint of a hospital. Techniques for improving the sustainability of the healthcare sector include:
- Raise awareness at every level, from patients to directors
- Promote practices that reduce the volume of waste generated
- Ensure proper waste segregation
- Reduce, reuse, recycle, compost (where possible)
- Improve energy efficiency
- Invest in renewable resources
- Improve transport infrastructure and offer incentives
- Green purchasing
- Conserve water
- Create a green culture
- Outline sustainability goals clearly
- Meet and create national and international standards
HOW DO NATIONAL AND INTERNATIONAL POLICIES SUPPORT SUSTAINABLE HEALTHCARE?
Many national and international institutions now recognise the detrimental impact of healthcare practices and are creating policies and campaigns to support sustainability. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has released guidelines for designing and building healthcare facilities that are more climate-resilient and environmentally sustainable.
The UN’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are an urgent call for action by all countries – developed and developing – in a global partnership. Many of their goals, including conserving the oceans, good health and responsible production, all link to the need for the healthcare sector to change.
In the United Kingdom, the NHS acknowledges that the climate emergency is a health emergency. So the health service launched the ‘Greener NHS’ campaign to help the UK and the institution reach net-zero goals.
The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment Ministry of Health in the Netherlands performs tasks to safeguard and promote public health and environmental quality and provides the government and the Health Council with impartial advice on next steps for a healthier future.
Healthcare has the power to make a change for the greater good everywhere and many countries are already putting infrastructure in place similar to the above, but there’s more we can all do.
Now is the time to create new goals and environmental policies and become part of the solution.
SANTÉ: TRANSFORMING THE GLOBAL HEALTHCARE SUPPLY CHAIN
Healthcare organisations have a responsibility to safeguard patients, staff and the community. Implementing strong sustainability programs is a key part of care, and it’s an important part of our business too.
At Santé, we provide a positive social impact on society, our communities and the environment for the next generation. Responsible trading and ethical sourcing are two founding principles of our approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR).
In line with our 6 Pillars of Trust™ methodology, our team work to high standards to develop and maintain ethical supplier relationships based on mutual benefit and a shared commitment, so let Santé support your sustainability goals today with our next-generation sourcing approach.