Green Hospitals and Climate Justice

Hospitals are failing the communities they purport to serve in that they are major contributors to the biggest global health threat of the 21st Century – climate change.

That’s the message from the former Director of the Green Hospital Program. He is responsible for the strategic approach of the “Green Hospital Alliance” in Germany. The group’s strategy – which focuses on high-quality, innovation and sustainable growth – has been rewarded with dynamic growth since its formation 25 years ago.

Hospitals are in fact major polluters, effectively reversing the role they have traditionally played in health care. The health sector’s mandate is to prevent and cure disease, yet the delivery of health care services — most notably in hospitals – often inadvertently contributes to the problem. Hospitals generate significant environmental health impacts both upstream and downstream from service delivery, through the natural resources and products they consume, as well as through the waste they generate.

The facts he believes speak for themselves:

  • Hospitals in the US have “enormous carbon footprints”, being the second most energy intensive building type behind that of the food service industry and twice that of commercial buildings
  • They are “extraordinarily water intensive”, averaging about 300 gallons per patient per bed per day when there is a desperate need to reduce the water footprint
  • 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 % of the country’s total commercial energy consumption

An Internet search reveals numerous examples of “Green Hospitals”, “Energy Saving Hospitals” or “Climate Friendly Hospitals”, all with one thing in common – some form of certification. The increased interest in Green building concepts and practices has resulted in a proliferation of standards, codes and rating systems under more than 60 labels including:

  • LEED in the United States
  • BREEAM in the UK
  • CASBEE in Japan
  • HQE in France
  • DGNB Germany

Yet whereas there is now a move towards Green hospitals, there is – as yet – no clear definition as to what one is.

As the lifecycle of a hospital is estimated at around 50 years, we believe the Green Hospital of the future could become a reality by 2070. In part this will be due to increasing importance of the hospital and healthcare market and its likely impact on the worldwide economy based on the current statistics which reveal:

  • 10 of the 20 fastest growing occupations in the US are healthcare related and the healthcare industry will generate more new jobs than any other industry
  • Germany, the biggest healthcare market in Europe – and third worldwide after the US and Japan – saw an increase in health expenditure of 19 per cent between 2000 and 2007

This market is also being driven by trends such as personalized healthcare market, with eHealth and telehealth services and platforms revolutionizing medical performance.

Interested in learning more about green hospitals around the world and what they entail? Check back to our blog for more updates.

Looking forward to a greener healthcare future.