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The sustainability of healthcare: Why aren't we talking about it?

If the global healthcare sector was a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter in the world — not great for a sector that promises 'to do no harm'. But a growing movement is emerging to decarbonise healthcare.

Healthcare and sustainability: Why aren't we talking about it?

Climate change is the greatest threat to health and well-being in the 21st century, contributing to rising cases of heat stroke, cardiorespiratory illnesses, and vector diseases globally, just to name a few.

At the same time, the healthcare sector is part of the problem. If it were a country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter of greenhouse gases. In addition, the global pandemic crisis triggered by Covid-19 has seen an explosion of the use of single-use personal protective equipment (PPE) and testing kits, generating unprecedented volumes of waste around the world.

Despite its outsized footprint, sustainability in the healthcare sector is a surprisingly under-covered issue in the media and global healthcare forums.

In this Eco-Business podcast, Victoria Haldane, a researcher with the Centre for Sustainable Health Systems and a PhD candidate at the Institute of Health Policy, Management & Evaluation at the University of Toronto unpacks the reasons behind it.

The healthcare sector, she points out, is starting to respond with a movement to decarbonise healthcare. The United Kingdom’s National Health Service (NHS) — responsible for about four per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions — became the world’s first national health system to commit to becoming carbon zero last year.  

Victoria Haldane

Victoria Haldane, a researcher with the Centre for Sustainable Health Systems and founding member of Emerging Leaders for Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare (ELESH).

Haldane is also a founding member of Emerging Leaders for Environmental Sustainability in Healthcare (ELESH), which promotes interdisciplinary action towards low carbon, high-quality health care. It joins the ranks of organisations such as Healthcare without Harm, which advocates for green hospitals globally.

Haldane, who worked in Asia for many years before re-locating to Canada, highlights Singapore’s Khoo Teck Puat Hospital as an example of a green hospital that has integrated a sustainability mindset into its design and operations.

This mindset, she adds, needs to be actively promoted among healthcare professionals, so that both “bottom up and top down” efforts to designing healthcare systems take sustainability issues into consideration right from the start.

Join us for this conversation as we discuss:  

  • Covid-19’s impact on healthcare and sustainability
  • Prevention programmes with a multi-sectoral approach as an effective way to reduce carbon-intensive ICU usage
  • Circular economy applications in healthcare 
  • What developed countries can learn from lower and middle-income countries on low-carbon community care
  • The divestment movement away from fossil fuels by healthcare institutions

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