Over the last two decades, environmental protection has become an issue at the forefront of public consciousness. There have been numerous large-scale international efforts to combat greenhouse gas emissions, pollution and exorbitant energy consumption. Currently, there is a global effort underway to promote sustainability, reduce carbon footprints and replace pollutant-rich energy with clean energy sources.
This green shift is happening at all levels – from individual to multinational companies, everyone is thinking green. Corporations and organizations around the world are implementing sustainable green business practices in their daily operations and realizing in the process that not only are they helping the environment, they are also benefiting their bottom line.
Late last month, Trucost, an environmental consultancy company, released a study entitled,What Matters and Where: Managing Sustainability in the Healthcare Sector. In the study, they outlined the benefits of integrating sustainable and environmental business practices in the healthcare system.
The report found that focusing on sustainability within the healthcare sector as a financial strategy can drive a number of forces like cost reductions and return on capital investment, improved patient experience and worker safety, business continuity and risk management, human capital development and reputation management.
As healthcare becomes a growing concern to nations with aging populations, finding ways to offer quality services that are not only economical, but also efficient is paramount to healthcare providers and other stakeholders. It is estimated that, “For every $1 trillion in revenue generated, the healthcare sector requires $28 billion in environmental resources, equivalent to 3 percent of annual revenue,” as mentioned in the Trucost study. The study continues, “Greenhouse gas emissions are by far the biggest impact, followed by water use and air pollution.”
On the same day the Trucost paper was released, environmental health advocate Gary Cohen won a McArthur Genius Award for his healthcare sector environmental sustainability work. Cohen is the current president of Health Care Without Harm, an alliance of healthcare organizations, unions and environmental health advocates in more than 50 global countries. The coalition is dedicated to eliminating industry practices that pollute the environment and contribute to disease.
His organizations have been instrumental in getting mercury removed from medical devices like thermometers and reducing the use of carcinogen-emitting waste incinerators in the United States.
“As a society we need to move healthcare upstream to address the social and environmental conditions that are making people sick in the first place,” Gary Cohen said in an interview. “All these environmental conditions have to be changed if we want to support healthy people.”
Toronto’s Andrew Matthews, a board member of the Centre of Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare (CESH) and healthcare entrepreneur, believes the integration of cutting-edge technology into the healthcare sector will also benefit sustainability initiatives. “A lot of the healthcare sector’s carbon footprint comes from the outside sources they use to ship equipment, stock the pharmacy and so on,”
Toronto’s Andrew Matthews said. “So, efficiency has to take on a multi-tiered approach.”
Matthews, who is currently working on a healthcare app that would save hours in emergency room visits, points to Toronto’s newly reopened Humber Hospital, the first fully digital hospital in North America, as the future of healthcare and technology. “What is happening at Humber is really exciting. They have implemented the latest technologies to make the hospital energy efficient, sustainable and technologically advanced,” Andrew Matthews said.
There isn’t one system-wide strategy that we can retrofit into the healthcare sector to gain the sustainable practices that we need. Instead, each city and country has to evaluate their current strategies and see what will be most cost and environmentally efficient. However, a global change is mandatory if we want to continue to offer healthcare to the masses and protect our environment at the same time.
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