Anesthetics emissions bring as much CO2 emissions as the equivalent of one million cars, according to a report by the British Journal of Anaesthesia. Additionally, the Health Care’s Climate Footprint report from 2019 said “if the health sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter [of greenhouse gases] on the planet.” To bring down their CO2 footprint, hospitals are taking major steps such as shifting to solar power and energy-efficient windows, and are making small but important changes in their daily operations.
61 of the biggest health sector companies, organizations and hospitals in the U.S. joined the Health Sector Climate Pledge recently to bring down emissions by 50% and achieve net-zero targets by 2050. In April this year, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), together with the White House, issued a call-to-action for health care organizations and businesses to cut emissions in the sector and contribute to climate action.
The health non-profit organization AAMC spoke to hospitals across the country to hear more about the projects they have implemented to reduce their climate impact.
The Ohio State University (OSU) Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, for example, has switched to reusable containers for items such as needles and syringes, thus avoiding 50 tons of plastic per year.
The Rush University Medical Center in Chicago has examined its valve systems and has taken actions to fix problems with those systems that contribute to the waste of energy. Ian Hughes, sustainability manager at the center, told AAMC that this action will also help them decrease energy costs.
The city of Burlington, Vermont collaborated with the University of Vermont Medical Center (UVMMC) and local businesses to capture waste heat from burning wood chips and use it to warm water that can then heat UVMMC’s buildings.
The University of California Davis Health is collecting certain single-use devices and returning them to vendors to sterilize and repack them. UC Davis Health told AAMC that in 2022 it has collected 10.25 tons of single-use devices to be reprocessed.
Helen Wilmot, chief facilities and sustainability officer at Stanford Health Care told that AAMC hospital staff need project management support on the hospitals’ journey to sustainability. “You can’t put it all on their backs,” she said.
Aparna Dial, senior director of sustainability and strategic services at OSU, told AAMC “lecturing [people] on doing the right thing” does not bring fundamental culture shift.
“Figure out what people care about,” Dial said. “Perhaps sustainability or climate change is not the hook to start with. Perhaps it’s efficiency, or cost savings, or community engagement. It always starts with building trust and relationships.”