The global health care industry creates a large environmental footprint due to the supplies, water, and energy it requires, as well as the waste it produces. One recent report found that the health care industry is among the most carbon-intensive service sectors in the industrialized world, responsible for nearly 5 percent of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions. The same report found that the US health care system alone is responsible for about a quarter of all global health care greenhouse gas emissions. Given this outsized impact, the health care industry has great power — and responsibility — to build a more sustainable medical system. Thankfully, there are many ways at both the individual and system level to reduce carbon emissions and environmental impact without sacrificing quality.
The following resource guide to greening health care practice and advocating for more sustainable medicine was created in partnership between the Center for Innovation in Global Health and Dr. Barbara Erny, a Global Health Faculty Fellow and leader in health care sustainability.
Q&A: How to Green Your Practice
We speak with Dr. Paige Wolstencroft about how, as a resident, she and her fellow dermatology residents used quality improvement methods to reduce waste.
Resources for Greening Health Care
Recording: Greening Health Care
Stanford Medicine’s Resident Safety Council held a March 2022 workshop on climate health equity and greening health care. A few key takeaways included: Compost food supplies where possible; increase education about biohazardous and recyclable hospital materials; go paperless where possible; use reusable procedure supplies; turn off the water when you scrub in; advocate for custom procedure kits to include what you really use. Learn more.
My Green Doctor
My Green Doctor describes itself as the world’s leading practice management resource for health care clinics, offices, and outpatient centers on environmental sustainability and climate change. Visit the website.
Health Care Without Harm
Health Care Without Harm is a global leader in promoting environmentally responsible health care with information specific to different regions of the world. Stanford partners with this organization to work on sustainability. Visit the website.
Stanford Health Care Sustainability Office
The Sustainability Program Office (SPO) advocates and supports activities that reduce the environmental footprint of Stanford Medicine’s operations while seeking solutions that also reduce costs and improve the wellbeing of staff, visitors, patients, and the community. Visit the website.
Stanford Climate and Health
A group of Stanford faculty and students committed to addressing both climate change’s impact on health and the health care system’s impact on climate change. This group aims to make Stanford the world leader in achieving decarbonization and resilience in health care. Visit the website.
Planetary Health Report Card
This report card was developed by Medical Students for a Sustainable Future, a medical student driven initiative designed to inspire medical schools to introduce climate change and planetary health into their curricula, expand research efforts, engage with communities most affected by climate change and environmental injustice, and support students who are passionate about organizing around planetary health. View the report card.
World Health Organization: Guidance for Climate Resilient and Environmentally Sustainable Health Care Facilities
The aim of this guidance is to enhance the capacity of health care facilities to protect and improve the health of their target communities in an unstable and changing climate; and to empower health care facilities to be environmentally sustainable, by optimizing the use of resources and minimizing the release of waste into the environment. View the guidance.
Getting to a Greener, Healthier World by 2030: Solutions from Health Care Professionals
This guide is a publication of the Journal of Climate Change and Health. View the publication.
Climate, Health, and Immunology Research at Stanford’s Sean N. Parker Center
Air pollution exposure is detrimental to health, with the World Health Organization attributing approximately 7 million annual deaths to exposure. The Sean N. Parker Center has conducted research for more than 10 years in the Central Valley area focusing on immune health and the effects of air pollution in vulnerable populations and offers information and sustainability resources. Learn more.
Guides for Environmentally Sustainable Practices in the Eye Health Sector
EyeSustain is a global coalition of eye societies and ophthalmologists collaborating to make ophthalmic care and surgery more sustainable. They have developed a robust website with resources to do so. Visit the website.
The Climate Action Working Group, with the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, has written a Guide for Environmentally Sustainable practices in the eye health sector, but many of its suggestions are broadly applicable to the health care sector. View the guide.
Addressing Food Waste
Food waste is connected to climate change and food insecurity, two key drivers of global health challenges. Food systems account for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the United Nations. Hospitals can do more to reduce food waste and green their food systems. Following are a few articles and resources to reduce the environmental costs of food consumption.
- Improving Environmental Sustainability in Outpatient Clinics: Lessons From a Waste Audit | Journal of Climate Change and Health, October 2021 | Stanford authors
- Building Sustainable and Resilient Surgical Systems: A Narrative Review of Opportunities to Integrate Climate Change into National Surgical Planning in the Western Pacific region | Lancet Regional Health – Western Pacific, February 2022
- Cataract Surgery and Environmental Sustainability: Waste and Lifecycle Assessment of Phacoemulsification at a Private Healthcare Facility | Journal of Cataract & Refractive Surgery, November 2022
- Connections Between Laboratory Research and Climate Change: What Scientists and Policy Makers Can do to Reduce Environmental Impacts | FEBS Letters, September 2020
- Teaching Medical Students About the Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health | Journal of Climate Change and Health, August 2021