Healthcare and the ESG Agenda

Health & Education

When people think of the word “climate change”, the culprits with large carbon footprints that come to mind are manufacturers and the corporate world-or at least for me. However, one area that also has a part in the climate emergency is the healthcare industry. In a recent article I was reading this morning states that the healthcare industry is responsible for 4.4% of global net emissions, or over 2 gigatons of carbon dioxide (CO2). This is becoming so much of a concern that the World Health Organization (WHO) recently put together a set of climate guidelines for healthcare facilities.

The WHO guidance provides a broad range of interventions for health sector around for key areas:

1. the health workforce;

2. water, sanitation, hygiene and health care waste management;

3. sustainable energy services;

4. Infrastructure, technologies and products.

To be more specific, the UK’s NHS has already started implementing these guidelines with two targets: a net zero Carbon Footprint by 2040 and, for the emissions the NHS can influence (its so-called NHS Carbon Footprint Plus), a target of net zero by 2045. This is being achieved with the following:

  • “Metered-dose inhalers account for 25% of primary care’s carbon footprint, and there is now widespread guidance to switch to dry powder inhalers.
  • NHS announced the world’s first zero emission ambulance capable of traveling up to 300 miles before recharging
  • Electronic prescriptions are replacing paper ones.
  • Patients are getting texts, not letters”.

Across the pond, U.S healthcare has been responsible for approximately 8.5% of its domestic greenhouse gas emissions. In response, The National Academy of Medicine (NAM) is launching an Action Collaborative on Decarbonizing the U.S. Health Sector with the stated goal of identifying opportunities for linking performance on sustainability outcomes to value-based payments, and reimbursement for educating health professionals on climate change. Here are some practices being implemented across the U.S:

  • “In 2021, Kaiser Permanente became the first health care system in the U.S. to achieve carbon neutral status, achieving this through both energy efficiency (such as installing on-site solar power) and carbon offsetting.
  • By installing a system that adjusts the air exchanges based on whether operating rooms are in use and, exchanging only as much air as is necessary, the Cleveland Clinic has reduced its energy costs by $2 million a year.
  • Partners HealthCare is facilitating the construction of a new large wind farm in New Hampshire, an endeavour which should cut costs and emissions”.

The US and the UK are just two examples of countries implementing sustainable medical practices. After the pandemic, the rise in telehealth can also help reduce carbon emission by allowing patients to visit their GP’s virtually before a necessary in-person visit, or even one at all. 

Every industry can do their part in climate change. The healthcare sector is shifting to do its part in creating a healthier planet-and a prescription for sustainable practices is just that.

Healthcare systems around the world, both public and private, should be actively collaborating to share best practices so that the global healthcare sector can be part of the solution to the climate emergency.

By Anusheh Khan on 25/04/2022