The challenge to keep pace with sustainability guidelines in healthcare
A growing regulatory epidemic
As hospital organisations face their most significant challenges to date with COVID-19, further hurdles appear in the form of ever-evolving sustainability guidelines and regulations. An overwhelming range of assessments and reports are required to prevent hospital organisations from facing hefty penalties and fines. With the healthcare sector already crippled by the recent pandemic, the need for a more effective way to manage regulatory compliance has never been more apparent.
With the healthcare sector being one of the largest greenhouse gas emitters
, the challenge to keep pace with sustainability guidelines and regulations has intensified considerably in recent times. Ensuring healthcare sustainability brings with it a unique and complex set of regulations and challenges that require careful consideration. Adhering to the complex and changing sustainability guidelines and regulations is often an intricate balancing act, between doing what’s right for the environment and doing what’s right for the healthcare system.
Sustainability guidelines - the scale of the problem
Understanding the magnitude of healthcare’s climate footprint may provide some insight into the real scale of the problem hospital organisations face in navigating sustainability guidelines.
Unsurprisingly, the accumulation of plastic waste in the form of personal protective equipment (PPE) and medical devices has increased exponentially as a result of the pandemic, with concerns regarding infectious disease contamination
. There are suggestions that the United States, for example, may have generated an entire year’s worth of medical waste in just two months
– contributing considerably more greenhouse gas emissions compared to the global aviation industry, for example. In addition to this, SUEZ reported a 50% increase in healthcare waste in France and a 30-50% increase in the Netherlands over a period of several weeks
Estimates of net emissions are startling, with 4.4% of global net emissions attributed to healthcare. Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), a non-profit network of European hospital organisations, estimates that if healthcare were a country, it would be the fifth-largest emitter on earth. In the absence of appropriate action, global healthcare emissions are expected to triple by 2050 compared to 2014, reaching an astounding six gigatons a year
. While healthcare-related greenhouse gas emissions vary considerably between countries, the HCWH report suggests that for Europe at least, greenhouse gas emissions have common origins
- 17% from healthcare facilities and healthcare owned vehicles
- 12% from energy sources such as heating, electricity, steam and cooling
- 71% from the healthcare supply chain, through the production, transport and disposal of goods and services, primarily pharmaceuticals, medical devices, food and agricultural products, hospital instruments and equipment.
Evidently, there is an urgent need to tackle the growing carbon footprint of healthcare. In fact, the World Health Organisation states that “An environmentally sustainable health system would improve, maintain or restore health, while minimising negative impacts on the environment and leveraging opportunities to restore and improve it, to the benefit of the health and well-being of current and future generations.”
What are the current sustainability guidelines?
To help combat the ever-growing carbon footprint of healthcare, several countries within the European Union have collectively agreed to work towards complete decarbonisation. The Paris agreement and the European Green Deal pledge to limit global warming to below 2 °C
, reduce emissions by at least 55% by 2030 compared to 1990, and make Europe the first carbon-neutral continent by 2050
Undoubtedly, attempting to keep up with sustainability guidelines and the associated complex goals and targets is a challenging task for the healthcare sector. But, where do hospital organisations start when it comes to chasing the moving sustainability target and how can they find the right support? The answer is to start with small and manageable changes that make substantial impact over time. Let’s take a look at a few examples and see where MedTech suppliers like Olympus may be able to help.
The goal of climate-neutral healthcare