Health Care’s Climate Footprint

The health sector itself is paradoxically making a significant contribution to climate change. Through the products and technologies it deploys, the energy and resources it consumes, the waste it generates and the buildings it constructs and operates, the health sector is a significant source of carbon emissions around the world, and therefore an unintentional contributor to climate change trends that undermine public health.

For instance, the National Health Service (NHS) in England has calculated its carbon footprint at more than 18 million tons of CO2 each year –- 25% of total public sector emissions. Brazilian hospitals use huge amounts of energy, accounting for more than 10 percent of the country's total commercial energy consumption. In the U.S., an analysis published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, concluded that the healthcare sector was responsible for 8 percent of the country’s total emissions. The health sector is responsible for seven per cent of carbon emissions from all buildings in Australia. In China, healthcare construction spending exceeds $10 billion a year, and is growing by 20% annually and creating a significant long-term health sector climate footprint. 

At the same time, hospitals and health systems can become beacons of low carbon development, deploying onsite renewable energy technologies such as wind and solar, super-efficient building design, minimized waste generation, water recycling and more. There are a growing number of examples from around the world of health sector initiatives for low carbon health care. Many of those working in this direction are members of Global Green and Healthy Hospitals, a worldwide network of hospitals, health systems and health organizations committed to reducing their environmental footprint.