A Road Map for Resilient, Greener Healthcare

Sep 6, 2022   |   CCS Insight
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The healthcare sector consumes significant energy and resources, leaving a carbon footprint and huge amounts of waste — either directly or indirectly through the products and services it acquires, uses and discards. A report from Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) finds that, globally, the healthcare sector accounts for about 10% of gross domestic product and is responsible for 4.4% of total net emissions. If the health sector were a country, it would be the fifth largest emitter on the planet. Ironically, healthcare itself has a negative effect on human and environmental health through its emissions of greenhouse gases. These health effects need to be mitigated.

To operate in a less harmful, climate-neutral way, healthcare institutions first need to understand the nature and extent of their greenhouse gas emissions. For this, organizations use the classification framework introduced by the Greenhouse Gas Protocol. Launched in 1998, it’s the global standard for measuring and managing greenhouse gas emissions for public and private sector organizations across all industries.

In summary, Scope 1 is used to categorize direct emissions such as on-site burning of fuels in healthcare facilities and the operation of vehicles, as well as from on-site waste disposal. Scope 2 covers indirect emissions from the generation of purchased energy consumed by a healthcare organization such as electricity and heat. Scope 3 emissions are also indirect, resulting from sources not controlled by the organization itself. Examples include construction, food and catering, inhalers such as life support machines, medical instruments and equipment and pharmaceuticals.
In terms of greenhouse gas emissions in the healthcare sector globally, HCWH finds that Scope 1 represents 17%, Scope 2 accounts for 12% and Scope 3 represents 71%. This means that almost 30% of worldwide healthcare emissions are linked to the direct burning of fossil fuels and the purchase of electricity, heat or steam. However, the report found that the remaining 70% of emissions are indirect, including those from healthcare’s supply chain. The worst offenders are pharmaceuticals at 12%, followed by business services at 10.7%, then food, catering and accommodation at 7.2%. IT is only responsible for 2.5% of healthcare greenhouse gas emissions. There are few emitters unique to the healthcare sector, most notably anaesthetic gases and metered dose inhalers.

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Cornelia Wels‑Maug

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