The healthcare industry is obviously very important, and its contributions to society have especially come to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the industry is not environment-friendly. It accounts for about 4% of global CO2 emissions – more than the emissions from the aviation and shipping industry.
With this, it becomes all the more important to try make sustainable healthcare the norm. Here are some ways this can be done:
A more effective method to deal with medical waste
The COVID-19 pandemic created a surge in the production and use of medical equipment such as PPE kits, surgical masks and vaccines. However, this also created an unprecedented increase in the amount of medical waste. In fact, while it is a cause for celebration that 8 billion vaccine doses have been administered to people around the planet, it is also a cause for concern that it has led to an additional 1,44,000 tonnes of waste.
While some of this medical waste is obviously unavoidable, we can try and reduce medical waste in other areas by adopting measures such as designing alternative packing for medicines. Another way to help could be to research more efficient ways of incineration of medical waste.
Reducing paper waste
From patient reports and prescriptions to internal communications, hospitals tend to have a lot of paperwork. Apart from leading to a storage issue, consuming a large quantity of paper is obviously harmful to the environment.
However, this can be solved by digitising files. Apart from being better for the environment, files stored online can mean easy access for both patients and doctors. Moreover, you might not have to face the problem of not being able to understand your doctor’s handwriting ever again!
Investing in energy-efficient alternatives
Hospitals and healthcare centres are often 24×7 establishments, which means that they often consume a lot of power. By using alternative energy sources or replacing older equipment with newer, energy-efficient ones, they can lower their carbon footprint. This can be done by using (at least partly) solar energy, installing environment-friendly electronic fixtures, improving building ventilation and insulation, and even using large windows to provide natural light.
Increase patient awareness
Healthcare providers need to educate patients on sustainable medical practices that can have a positive effect on the environment. For example, non-emergency patients can choose to take public transport instead of a car or cab. Similarly, they can also be made aware of the benefits of recycling medicines that they don’t use anymore. Instead of letting them expire at home, they can just bring unused medicines to the pharmacy, where they can be properly disposed of or recycled.
Just as doctors take the Hippocratic Oath to safeguard patients, it is important for the healthcare industry to collectively pledge to take care of the planet. Through accountable leadership and innovation, we can create a sustainable healthcare system while modernising it.
If this has sparked an interest in sustainability in you, head on over to hub.sdgplus.org for a wide range of courses based on sustainability and sustainable praactices.