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.
Stanford Students and Residents at the Intersection of Climate and Health
Student Profile: Jonathan Lu, Medical Student and Climate and Health Leader
This story features Jonathan Lu, a medical student and leader in efforts to make healthcare more sustainable and more responsive to patients impacted by climate change. In 2020, he co-founded the student-driven advocacy group Stanford Climate and Health.
A Q&A with a Stanford Resident on How to Green Your Practice
We speak with Resident Paige Wolstencroft about how she and her fellow dermatology residents have used quality improvement methods to reduce waste.
Resources for Greening Health Care
Stanford Health Care Sustainability Seed Grant 2022
Stanford has issued a seed grant for sustainability research projects in Stanford hospitals. These Seed Grant Proposals should focus on research around tangible and current projects occurring in Stanford Healthcare. Please see attached. Interdisciplinary collaborations that incorporate diversity are encouraged. Due Aug. 1, 2022. Learn more.
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 aims to model sustainability across all aspects of campus life, and has worked to transform its campus into a living laboratory for environmental action. 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. View 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. View 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.
Medical Societies for Climate Health
The Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health includes Stanford representation: Dr. Lisa Patel is Deputy Executive Director and Dr. Barbara Erny is on the steering committee. Visit the website.
Climate Health Now
This advocacy organization is composed of doctors, nurses, health professionals, and health students in California taking on the climate crisis in order to protect patients and the environment. Visit the website.
Physicians for Social Responsibility
SF Bay Physicians for Social Responsibility works to protect human life from the gravest threats to health and survival. They promote public policies that protect human health from the threats of nuclear war and other weapons of mass destruction, global environmental degradation, climate change, the epidemic of gun violence, and other social injustices in society today.. Visit the website.
Clinicians for Planetary Health
The Clinicians for Planetary Health initiative is a global effort of the Planetary Health Alliance to galvanize health professionals, patients, and communities around planetary health through lifestyle modifications and activism. Learn more.
Resources for Greening Labs
The Cardinal Green Labs program aims to provide resources specifically tailored for laboratories to help them operate as sustainably as possible.
Climate and Health in Medical Education
The Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education
The Global Consortium on Climate and Health Education is working out of Columbia’s School of Public Health to develop standardized climate and health curricula for medical training. Resources include videos and powerpoints. View the Course.
Climate Crisis and Clinical Medicine Virtual Elective for Medical Students
This virtual elective offered by Emory University is designed for M3 and M4 students who are interested in furthering their understanding of the intersection of the climate crisis and clinical medicine. Learn more.
Medicine for a Changing Planet
Medicine for a Changing Planet, a joint project between Stanford CIGH and the University of Washington, is producing a suite of case studies for medical students and clinicians that highlight clinical manifestations of environmental challenges. More information coming soon.
Physician’s Guide to Climate Change, Health and Equity
The Physician’s Guide to Climate Change, Health and Equity is an excellent resource from the Center for Climate Change and Health meant to strengthen and inform physician’s voices as trusted health professionals on climate change, health and equity. Learn more.
Diploma in Climate Medicine
The University of Colorado now offers this program, in which health care providers will learn:
- Climate & Health Science Policy
- Environmental Justice
- Health Care System Decarbonization and Resiliency
- Workforce Training
- Climate & Health Research and Dissemination
Commentary: A Model for Comprehensive Climate and Medical Education
This commentary in The Lancet Planetary Health was written by Stanford medical students and faculty and outlines a longitudinal approach to climate and equity education throughout medical training.
Publications, Online Resources, and Books
- The Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change | The Lancet, October 2021
- Climate Change and Global Health: A Call to More Research and Action | Allergy, February 2022 | Stanford authors
- Improving Environmental Sustainability in Outpatient Clinics: Lessons From a Waste Audit | Journal of Climate Change and Health, October 2021 | Stanford authors
- A Call for Clinicians to Act on Planetary Health | The Lancet, Aug. 2019
- 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
- Health Risks Due to Climate Change: Inequity in Causes and Consequences | Health Affairs, October, 2020
- Teaching Medical Students About the Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health | Journal of Climate Change and Health, August 2021
- Addressing Climate Change and Its Effects on Human Health: A Call to Action for Medical Schools | Academic Medicine, March 2021
- Climate Change: A Health Emergency | New England Journal of Medicine, January 2019
- Global Climate Change and Human Health: From Science to Practice, 2nd Edition | Jay Lemery (Editor), Kim Knowlton (Editor), Cecilia Sorensen (Editor)
- Climate Change and Global Health, 2nd Edition | Colin D. Butler
- Enviromedics: The Impact of Climate Change on Human Health | Jay Lemery, Paul Auerbach