There is an increasing concern for anthropogenic climate change; with a serious contribution to the global carbon footprint coming from health care sectors. The sector operates at all hours 7 days a week, emits greenhouse gases into the air, water and soil, holds high building energy usage, and is involved in large amounts of pollution related to travel. However, the largest contributor to greenhouse gas emissions is procurement. If the US healthcare systems were a country, they would rank 13th in the world for highest greenhouse gas emissions. Health care systems not only help give rise to greenhouse gas emissions, but to acid rain, ozone depletion, and smog formation. Consequently, they cause 470,000 DALYs lost from pollution-related disease.
Hospitals are the second most energy-intensive commercial buildings due to several energy-intensive activities constantly taking place. The list of activities is extensive, such as heating, cooling, refrigeration, laundry, ventilation systems, sterilization, computing, medical and laboratory equipment, and food services. Transport is always required, from transferring patients, responding to emergency situations, to transportation of supplies. Transport systems are major energy users and air pollution contributors. This holds significance as we face the threat of global warming through emission of greenhouse gases. Procurement of medicines involves astonishing levels of greenhouse gas emissions, holding 72% of total healthcare care associated emissions. 34.71% comes from pharmaceuticals and 25.04% comes from medical equipment. These high levels of pollutants have indirect effects on our health. Ill health related to environmental causes then puts further pressures on healthcare systems as numbers of patients continue to rise.
Health care services are not only contributors to pollution but also major resource consumers. Resources such as mercury, and silver are widely used in medical practices. Medical practices generate million tons of solid waste, as well as infectious, radiological and chemical waste which are difficult to dispose of. Disposal methods are predominantly carried out through incineration, many of which do not have installed pollution control devices. Hence there is a need for efficient and clean energy use, less waste, conservation of water, cleaner chemicals, healthier foods and environmentally preferable supply chain management. A major problem is due to medical errors, if performance is addressed, reduction in expenditures can happen.
Mitigation strategies should be adopted to prevent further damage being made from the health care sector. More usage of renewable energy resources and environmentally friendly options will provide many benefits. An 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is required by 2050. Whilst the demand for health care services rises (with rising population, and more of an ageing population) the supply side struggles to keep up. Rather than expanding health care services, as this will increase environmental impacts, the sector needs to be more energy efficient.