Can High-Tech Healthcare Be Sustainable?

By By Dan Hounsell
March 23, 2021

Sustainability remains a top priority for many institutional and commercial facilities. Commercial office buildings boast of their small carbon footprints, and higher education institutions market themselves to potential students and faculty based on their low environmental impact. So given the huge investment in and reliance on energy-using technology, where does the issue of sustainability fall for healthcare managers?

Healthcare is one of the most important economic sectors in high income countries, but its environmental footprint is underreported and not often considered, according to Resilience. The environmental footprint of health care keeps increasing. For example, the U.S. healthcare sector’s greenhouse gas emissions grew by 30 percent between 2003 and 2013. 

What makes modern health care so resource-intensive? Modern hospitals are high energy users because of large plug loads from medical devices, lighting, and HVAC. In operating rooms, the high power use comes from the use of intense spotlights and ultraclean ventilation canopies.

Although data on its environmental footprint is incomplete, it seems clear that modern healthcare is not compatible with a transition to a low-carbon society. The big question is whether this can be fixed without lowering the levels of care, pain relief, and longevity that people in high-income societies expect.

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Topic Area: Sustainable Operations

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