Towards a sustainable future in healthcare − insights from WHC 2023 Plenary Session 3

Date:  21 December 2023

Towards a sustainable future in healthcare − insights from WHC 2023 Plenary Session 3

In an era marked by climate crises and environmental concerns, the third Plenary Session of IHF’s 46th World Hospital Congress offered a timely and insightful discussion on sustainability in healthcare. Sharing their experiences, ideas and strategies to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint, healthcare leaders gave a wide panorama of solutions for a sustainable future. Here is a summary of the key takeaways from this session.

Recognizing the global responsibility and urgency

Dr Jonathan Perlin initiated the session with a stark reminder of healthcare’s significant role in global carbon footprint. The sector’s moral obligation to act should serve to unite all stakeholders to recognize and address their environmental impact.

“Just do it. It’s really a message of urgency, hope and optimism.”

Dr Jonathan Perlin
President and CEO, The Joint Commission Enterprise (USA)

Taking green initiatives

From green buildings and energy conservation to solar panels, examples of healthcare institutions that actively work towards net-zero exist. They can and should lead an ambitious change in the sector through concrete action plans to achieve their goals.

“We need to educate, we need to understand how we can manage our ecosystem to work towards net zero.”

H.E. Mubaraka Ibrahim
CIO Information Sector, Emirates Health Services (UAE)

Transformative leadership and organizational commitment

Reaching net-zero requires a deep change in leadership approaches that champions environmental sustainability. As in the inspiring Green 365 initiative in Kenya, it is necessary to include the shift towards green initiatives into the organizational culture as a core value to ensure the success of sustainable projects.

“Let’s use our influence as leaders … to push the sustainability agenda forward and … drive results that are measurable.”

Mrs Toseef Din
CEO, M P Shah Hospital (Kenya)

Empowering every healthcare worker

In addition to changing leadership, it is crucial to engage healthcare workers in the shift towards sustainability. Each individual’s contribution, no matter how small, is vital to reach the sector’s goals. Small, effortless actions can be taken at all levels of healthcare and it is important to consider all staff as change leaders.

“Create a sense of emergency in your staff. Help them, support them and empower them to be the main characters for health and environment sustainability.”

Dr Miguel Paiva
CEO, Centro Hospitalar Entre Douro e Vouga (Portugal)

Involving communities

Healthcare can only play its full role in reducing emissions with the support of local communities. By working closely with local communities to educate on sustainability, plant trees or fund solar panels, healthcare can contribute to build a wider culture of sustainability and provide support to these communities.

“The challenge is upon us to [support] healthy people on a healthy planet.”

Dr Karan Thakur
Vice President – Sustainability and Public Affairs, Apollo Hospitals Group (India)

Leveraging technology

Artificial intelligence and data analytics are useful tools to achieve sustainability goals in healthcare. Real-time on carbon footprint can support quicker decision-making to massively reduce emissions. Another example is the use of telemedicine to reach remote populations and raise awareness of environmental health.

Funding sustainable action

Balancing the costs is key to promote green initiatives. While some need significant investment, they often lead to considerable long-term savings. We need to understand that sustainability is an economically viable strategy in the long run. In the context of rising energy prices, investment in solar panels may even bring quick paybacks.

Sustainability beyond net-zero

Beyond the sole reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, sustainability is a strategy that yields benefits beyond the environment. The positive impacts of sustainable efforts on people, efficiency and innovation should increase the attractiveness of green and durable initiatives.

“It’s never too late [to start]. Let’s do it together right now.”

Prof. Dr Wen-Jin Cherng
Chair of Steering Committee, Chang Gung Medical Foundation (Taiwan)


Despite the known challenges in shifting leadership towards a sustainable future, the session noted hope and optimism based on the examples discussed. Speakers collectively called for action, urging healthcare leaders to embrace sustainability with a positive mindset and to implement impactful measures for a healthier planet.

If you attended the World Hospital Congress in Lisbon, you can listen to the recording of this session by logging in to your WHC mobile app account here until the end of February 2024.

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