Over the past few years, the medical community has rallied together to acknowledge that it has a vital role to play in addressing climate change. This effort grew out of the recognition that the health care system is itself a major driver of environmental pollutants that adversely affect human health.1
There is growing consensus that tackling climate change could be the greatest global opportunity of the 21st century. To this end, multiple efforts are underway to build a sustainable healthcare system, one that can improve and restore human health while minimizing its negative impact on the environment. Check out some of the “Gold Star” sustainable efforts that are in progress.2
Anesthetic Gases (AG)
Although many AG are known to be detrimental to human health, they make up to 5% of a hospital’s carbon footprint. Abraham Lincoln Memorial Hospital in Illinois is working to change this. In just one year they reduced their purchase of AG by 80%!
Nature and Biophilia
Stony Brook University Hospital in New York puts patient, staff, and planetary health at the center of their nature-forward design. Their newly renovated facility features native plants, a memorial garden, a walking labyrinth, and an on-site vegetable garden for on-site meals. Patient healing is truly being maximized through nature!
Food & Nutrition
Hudson Hospital in Wisconsin has distributed more than 30,000 “veggie prescriptions,” increasing access to healthy food for those who might otherwise not have it.
UCLA Health uses an all-electric bus to transport patients, staff, and materials throughout the health system, substantially reducing fuel costs and emissions levels.
Hospital Waste & Recycling
Reducing 1 million pounds of surgical blue wrap is the environmental equivalent of taking 250 cars off the road. Overlook Hospital in New Jersey estimates their recycled blue wrap tote bags prevented the use of 100,000 plastic bags and saved the hospital $30,000 in waste handling costs in 2019.
Preventing Water Contamination
In 2019, Methodist Hospital in St. Louis Park, Minnesota collected 8,806 pounds of medication through collection kiosks, ensuring discarded medication didn’t get into the wrong hands or into the drinking water through improper disposal.
Although operating rooms are a small percentage of a hospital’s physical footprint, they typically produce more than 30% of a facility’s waste. After completing a state-of-the-art surgical suite renovation, Iowa City VA Medical Center reported savings of more than $1 million, 23 tons of waste avoided, and a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions from inhaled anesthetics.
1. Yale Center on Climate Change and Health https://ysph.yale.edu/yale-center-on-climate-change-and-health/healthcare-sustainability-and-public-health/
Rose Jones, PhD
Research & Strategy in Urban Green Health