A draft report by the WHO and Health Care Without Harm, an NGO, says hospitals have a major role to play and can reduce their environmental impact by using alternative energy sources, designing 'greener' buildings, and being more efficient in their use of water, transport and food.
By "shopping green", the health sector can make its own operations more efficient and can help leverage broader change throughout the economy, according to the report.
The authors also call on the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December 2009 to specifically promote climate change mitigation by the health sector.
It is suggested that prioritising primary health care and pursuing disease prevention strategies, in order to lower dependence on resource-intensive therapies, can simultaneously reduce the burden of disease and the health sector's fossil fuel consumption.
Setting an example
The UK has taken the lead in this area, according to the report, and its National Health Service has proposed a range of measures including offering fewer meat and dairy products on its menus.
The NHS in England calculates that it spends £20 billion a year on goods and services, which translates into a carbon footprint of 11 million tonnes – 60% of the NHS's total carbon footprint.
Addenbrooke's Hospital in Cambridge, England, has reduced the number of cars on the campus by 16%, with staff car use down 22%. The health authorities have commissioned a bus to the hospital, offered discounted bus passes and introduced interest-free loans for bicycles as well as a car share scheme.
At the Pilgrim Hospital, Lincolnshire, England, a biomass boiler will come into operation next year as part of a plan to cut its CO2 emissions by 50%. The boiler will run on locally harvested and renewable woodchips and will be supplemented by a Combined Heat and Power (CHP) plant which will generate electricity for hospital operations.
A range of projects across the globe have been highlighted as examples of how hospitals can implement significant changes.
Torun City Hospital in Poland is part of the WHO's 'Healthy Cities' initiative and has incorporated sustainability criteria into renovation and expansion projects. Improved insulation, room temperature control and modern heaters have helped bring energy savings of 30% in renovated buildings and 54% in new buildings.
Saving energy is also a priority at Constance Hospital in Baden-Württemberg, Germany, where CO2 emissions have been cut by over 25% following a recent modernisation. The hospital installed solar panels and CHP technology that has 75% efficiency (versus 35% efficiency of conventional generators). In addition, buildings and windows throughout the hospital were equipped with thermal insulation.
The report, by the WHO and 'Health Care Without Harm', outlined a range of ways that healthcare institutions can help cut their carbon output.
It listed seven elements for a climate-friendly hospital:
- Energy efficiency: Reduce hospital energy consumption and costs through efficiency and conservation measures;
- Green building design: Build hospitals that are responsive to local climate conditions and optimised for reduced energy and resource demands;
- Alternative energy generation: Produce and/or consume clean, renewable energy onsite to ensure reliable and resilient operation;
- Transportation: Use alternative fuels for hospital vehicle fleets; encourage walking and cycling to the facility; promote staff, patient and community use of public transport; site health-care buildings to minimise the need for staff and patient transportation;
- Food: Provide sustainably grown local food for staff and patients;
- Waste: Reduce, re-use, recycle, compost; employ alternatives to waste incineration, and;
- Water: Conserve water; avoid bottled water when safe alternatives exist.