Sustainability in Healthcare: Securing Our Future


22 January 2024


Sustainability in Healthcare Securing Our Future

Sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” The Earth is dying faster than we might think and it’s threatening our survival and the survival of our children.

The importance of sustainability in public health cannot be denied.

Explore what this could mean for our health and our environment with IMANA.

Why You Should Care About Sustainability 

Our planet has an abundance of natural resources, but they’re finite. This means that if they’re not used conservatively and responsibly, they cannot be replaced at the same rate as our consumption. If we keep operating as we have, this can manifest in a drastic imbalance in the ecological processes, which is why it’s so important to embrace sustainability. It allows you to adopt smart practices that preserve natural resources and protect our planet for future generations. 

At the same time, we must also ensure that human health is not irreparably compromised. 

The Solution: Environmental Sustainability of Health Systems Come 

Sustainability often gets reduced to environmentalism but the movement is so much bigger than that. It’s about preserving natural resources and making sure you don’t play a part in their depletion. 

The medical sector is energy-intensive, and it contributes an estimated 8.5% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the United States. This can have adverse effects on human health, affecting the respiratory system, cardiovascular system, central nervous system, immune system, digestive system, and reproductive system. Trapping heat in the earth’s atmosphere can also lead to climate change, which can grievously put too much stress on existing structures and facilities.

While the healthcare sector undoubtedly contributes to environmental challenges, it also provides unparalleled care to the people. Since the human impact of shutting down 1 out of 12 hospitals is nothing less than catastrophic, it has become more important than ever to make the delivery of healthcare more sustainable.

What Are the Pillars of Sustainability in Healthcare? 

The concept of sustainability in healthcare is based on 4 pillars. Once you read through them, you’ll learn that they’re related to green initiatives. These initiatives are becoming increasingly popular as businesses try to reduce their environmental footprint.

Waste Management

Hospitals produce waste like toxic chemicals, sharps, and human tissues. It is estimated that about 15% of it can be dangerous to people and the environment. 

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends using methods like autoclaving to treat hazardous waste. It’s also ideal to choose products with minimal packaging whenever possible and implement recycling programs to reduce our carbon footprint. Since poor waste management can expose healthcare workers and waste handlers to substances that are hazardous to their health, training must be provided to everyone so that the risks are minimized. 

Water Management 

The earth has over 1.3 trillion cubic kilometers of water but not all of it is usable. Only one-hundredth of 1% of this is readily available for human use. 

It’s sufficient—but for how long?

The amount of water available per individual drops as the population rises. Add to that, wastewater is frequently released into surface waters and sewers, further limiting availability. A lot of it comes from hospitals but it contains different pollutants that threaten the health and sustainability of the environment. 

Hospitals must thus exercise care to ensure that waste water is appropriately disinfected before it is discharged. They should also ensure regular maintenance of faucets to optimize performance, install low-flow toilets to conserve water and energy, and fix sensor taps which can save up to 70% water compared to traditional taps.

Energy Management 

The average inpatient hospital facility in the US is 247,000 square feet and uses 31 kWh of energy per square foot. They use more energy than other commercial buildings, and not just because they operate around the clock. High-power lighting (especially in operating rooms), equipment, and systems like air conditioning, kitchen, steam, and more are all energy-intensive. 

The good news is there are ways to operate more responsibly. For example, administrators can install LED lighting wherever possible. This type of lighting uses up to 90% less energy. Other ways to reduce energy consumption include sealing the ductwork on HVAC systems, using solar panels for on-site power generation, and installing combined heat and power (CHP) systems. 

Air Quality Management 

Hospital buildings are centrally located to ensure ease of access, but this brings with it the threat of external air pollution. Once air pollution makes its way inside, it stays there. Combined with the indoor air pollutants emitted by the medical facility itself, they can contribute to health problems that affect everyone from patients to employees. 

Implementing measures like filtration, mechanical ventilation, directional airflow control, differential pressure control, ultraviolet germicidal irradiation (UVGI) disinfection, and local exhaust ventilation can help maintain indoor air quality. 

It also helps reduce our reliance on polyvinyl chloride (PVC) which is known to increase toxic air pollutants. Here is a short but detailed guide that will help you choose better PVC alternatives. 

Look Forward to a Sustainable Future With Imana

Sustainability in healthcare is urgently needed. We must develop a system and guidelines that can help our healthcare providers understand the importance of ensuring human health without compromising the health of the planet. When we focus our efforts on sustainable medicine and streamline our diagnostic and therapeutic systems, we can promote long-term wellness for us and future generations.