Best practices that healthcare leaders can embrace to create sustainable hospitals (YEL2023) – Executive summary

Climate change is currently the greatest potential threat to the human species’ health. Paradoxically, the health sector, whose mission is protecting and promoting health, is a major contributor to the climate crisis. As such, the health sector has a significant role to play in reducing its impact on climate change. However, the large-scale need for change can seem dauting, and may not always be translatable to the hospital executive leader making day-to-day operational decisions. To empower healthcare leaders to embrace their roles in reducing the climate change footprint of their respective organizations, we propose 10 best practices that can be easily adapted to create sustainable hospitals.

  1. Support the healthcare workforce to embrace sustainable practices – Hospital leaders can empower employees to support sustainability efforts through education, training, and advocacy. Participating in community projects and supporting local sustainable businesses helps amplify the impact of sustainability initiatives.
  2. Establish an organizational culture of sustainable healthcare – Appoint and support a Chief Sustainability Officer, who can guide the institution in reducing environmental impact. Develop a clear and comprehensive sustainability strategy aligned with the organization’s goals and values and integrate it into business practices. Establish internal sustainability committees or task forces and engage employees in green team activities to reinforce a sense of collective responsibility and shared commitment to environmental stewardship.
  3. Embrace technology and innovation that supports environmental sustainability – Prioritize environmental sustainability and energy efficiency in day-to-day operations by integrating technologies that reduce the ecological footprint, including: digitalization and smart technologies, telemedicine and virtual care, cloud computing, and wearable devices for patient monitoring. Invest in technologies such as medication management system and digital imaging to maximize long-term impact.
  4. Adopt environmentally conscious regulatory frameworks – Several frameworks and international certifications offer guidance and standards that healthcare leaders can leverage to shape sustainable practices. It is recommended that organizations align their efforts with existing frameworks to advance their sustainability efforts. Of interest, the Joint Commission International is collaborating with the International Hospital Federation (IHF)’s Geneva Sustainability Centre, to develop environmental sustainability standards for international hospitals around the world.
  5. Implement optimal waste management practices – Hospital leaders can think about improving waste management through an administrative focus on reducing, reusing, and recycling with environmental awareness, while managing more complex wastes through safe disposal strategies to reduce environmental impact, in keeping with best practices outlined by the World Health Organization.
  6. Optimize supply chain management – Most of the healthcare’s climate impact is through supply chain related indirect emissions accounting for approximately 82% of healthcare emissions. This impact can be mitigated by assessing the carbon footprint of purchased products, leveraging digital tools and technologies, and identifying synergies with other purchasers. Leverage the concept of the Green Supply Chain, which considers waste reduction and greenhouse gas emissions, eco-design, green purchasing, sustainable packaging, and reverse logistics.
  7. Maximize system efficiency and embrace sustainable practices – Establish greater health system effectiveness by eliminating inefficient and unnecessary practices, linking carbon reduction and quality of care, and bolstering resilience as a high-impact action to reduce healthcare greenhouse gas emissions. Engage in Choosing Wisely Campaigns to reduce unnecessary tests and treatments. Reduction unnecessary pharmaceutical use, substitute high emissions products with more climate-friendly alternatives, and incentivize the production of affordable green, climate-smart medicine.
  8. Reduce high-emissions healthcare-related travel – Transportation, including business travel, operational transport, and supply chain logistics, constitutes about 7% of global healthcare emissions. Leaders can start by identifying where healthcare climate solutions may be more cost-effective than business as usual and invest in these (e.g., e-vehicles, virtual care, digitization of services). Hospital leaders should work with primary care and community care to ensure that care is delivered in the most appropriate setting, given that hospital care is more resource and energy intensive.
  9. Rethink the concept of green hospitals – This consists of the practice of designing, constructing, operating, maintaining, and removing buildings in ways that conserve natural resources and reduce pollution. Investing in Green Design has several benefits for hospitals, including optimization of value, reduction of future risks related to energy costs and building management, and positive impacts on the health and well-being of patients, staff, and visitors.
  10. Enhance patient awareness – Partner with patients to achieve sustainability goals by integrating sustainability messaging into patient communications, by providing information about eco-friendly practices, and visibly highlighting the organization’s commitment to sustainability within their premises. Incentivizing sustainable behaviours can create a positive feedback loop.

In conclusion, there are several practices that healthcare leaders can embrace to create sustainable hospitals. While it is recognized that there are competing priorities for healthcare organizations in a resource-limited world, hospital leaders need to create a “sustainable conscience” to ensure the optimal efficiency of available resources to benefit the health of all human beings. The International Hospital Federation and the Geneva Sustainability Centre are key resources to assist organizations in their sustainability efforts. Healthcare leaders can make changes in their organizations to support hospital sustainability – we encourage you to start today!

Read the full report

Kingston Health Sciences Centre, Canada

Dr Geneviève Digby

Physician Quality Lead
Young Executive Leaders 2023

IHF Member: HealthcareCAN, Canada. Associate Professor of Medicine in the Division of Respirology at Queen’s University and cross-appointed to the Department of Oncology.

Brazilian Hospital Federation (FBH), Brazil

Marco Antonio Saavedra Bravo

Project and Kaizen Manager
Young Executive Leaders 2023

IHF Member: Brazilian Hospital Federation (FBH), Brazil. Planning strategies and managing guidelines focused on increasing the performance of hospital operations and the patient journey.

Eltahrir General Hospital, Egypt

Dr Mohamed Helal

Hospital General Manager
Young Executive Leaders 2023

IHF Member: General Authority of Healthcare, Egypt. Obgyn consultant and hospital management specialist in infertility and reproduction medicine.

Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, UAE

Dr Muneer Al Obeidli

Program Lead Wellbeing
Young Executive Leaders 2023

IHF Member: Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi, UAE. Responsible for developing and implementing innovative programmes that promote health, joy, and wellbeing.

Centro Hospitalar Universitário de Lisboa Central, Portugal

Sílvia Pinto Ramalho Oliveira

Hospital Board Deputy Administrator/Clinical Pathology and Immunohemotherapy Administrator
Young Executive Leaders 2023

IHF Member: Portuguese Association of Hospital Managers (APAH), Portugal. Project manager responsible for the healthcare professionals' wellbeing and work-life balance programme.

NMC Healthcare, UAE

Umang Jain

Senior Manager Strategy and Operations
Young Executive Leaders 2023

IHF Member: NMC Healthcare, UAE. Leads business growth and operational efficiency projects, along with managing operations for multispecialty hospitals and clinics in the region.

Written by:

Katherine Bennett

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