Healthcare Takes Heavy Toll on Environment: Study

Healthcare sector produces 10 percent of total U.S. greenhouse gas emissions

By Chris Miller, Assistant Editor, Facility Market
July 26, 2021

The healthcare sector has a substantial influence on the climate, producing 10 percent of the total greenhouse gases in the United States, according to a Healthcare Without Harm study. Looking at it in a different way, if the U.S. health care sector were itself a country, it would rank 13th in the world for emissions, ahead of the entire United Kingdom. Climate change leads to poor air quality, negative effects on the food and water supply, and more frequent and extreme weather events. All of these can have serious consequences for the human body. 

It is important to note that vulnerable populations such as low-income communities, those of color, in addition to older people, children and those with underlying health issues are disproportionately affected by climate change. In fact, the World Health Organization estimates that about 80 percent of the health effects of climate change hurt children who are under five years old.

Sustainable healthcare facilities are becoming more common across the industry. At times it can be difficult, but there are ways to mitigate the harmful effects of healthcare-induced climate change. One thing healthcare facilities can do is determine a direct connection between new project choices and positive effects on human health. Hospitals and similar facilities are always looking toward the future for how they can optimize things like surgeries and patient experience. If a connection between advancement and human health is always considered then building design, construction, and operation strategies should reflect the hospital's mission, which is generally to protect human health. Developing sustainable operations is no different. 

Transportation emissions around healthcare facilities is high as it includes ambulances, hospital transport vehicles and staff and patient travel. This means that site location is crucial to how a facility contributes to climate change. Organizations should choose sites that are conveniently located to the community being served.

Reducing the reliance on non-renewable energy sources through technology and designs is another thing healthcare facilities can do to be more sustainable. It is important to determine a baseline level of energy efficiency for buildings and their systems. From here, determine the amount of excess energy that can be saved with minimum levels of energy efficiency through appliances like lighting occupancy sensors, daylighting controls or automated receptacle controls. Additional energy costs and greenhouse gas emissions can be offset by using renewable energy methods such as photovoltaic systems, wind generators or thermal or electric generation from qualifying biofuels, according to Healthcare Construction and Operations News.

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Topic Area: Sustainable Operations

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