Greening hospitals: Yes we can!

Earlier this year the American Medical Association (AMA) published an article entitled ‘Lower costs by going green!’ aimed at the healthcare sector.  They note that, in the USA, 9 – 10 percent of the nation’s total carbon dioxide emissions are generated by the health care industry – and the USA is not alone in this high carbon footprint.  In Europe the average emissions is estimated to be about 5 percent.  Cleary there is a margin for improvement.  The AMA article makes practical, money and energy saving proposals aimed at the small medical practices.  The question arises as to how this could be achieved in the larger hospital environment.  There is a trove of excellent suggestions for building new energy efficient and environmentally friendly hospitals – but what of existing hospitals?
A very useful source of information is the Global Green and Healthy Hospitals (GGHH) community.  The community of almost 1000 members have the aim to transform the health sector and foster a healthy future for people and the planet.  To achieve this aim GGHH brings together hospitals, health systems, and health organizations from around the world under the shared goal of reducing the environmental footprint of the health sector.
To achieve their aims, they suggest a 10 goal strategy: Leadership -making environmental health, safety and sustainability key organizational priorities;  substituting harmful chemicals with safer alternatives; to reduce, treat and safely dispose of healthcare waste; to reduce water consumption, as well as to source, purchase and serve sustainably locally grown, healthy food. Other goals include implementing energy saving strategies; safely manage and dispose of pharmaceuticals; transportation planning, building efficiency design; and purchasing safe and sustainable products.   
GGHH points out that there is not one model of green and healthy hospital but indicate that many health systems around the world are already taking steps to reduce their environmental footprint contributing to public health while at the same time saving money.    Initiatives such as the ‘Health Promoting Hospital Network’ originating in Europe and with the support of the World Health Organisation, is developing a set of sustainability criteria.  Such initiatives and conferences of greening the health sector are emerging in countries as diverse as Argentina, China, India, South Africa and Sweden – to name a few.
The Global Green and Healthy Hospitals agenda sets out to support these existing efforts around the world to promote greater sustainability and environmental health.  European hospitals would do well to align themselves with this community, reducing the European healthcare contribution to the carbon footprint, as well as, in many cases, saving money –immediately and in the future.