Geneva shows leadership on sustainable healthcare

The drive for sustainable healthcare delivery is gaining momentum thanks to the efforts of the University Hospitals of Geneva (HUG), the International Hospital Federation (IHF), and its Geneva Sustainability Centre (GSC).

At the 45th IHF World Hospital Congress, taking action for a healthier planet was a major focus for the global healthcare leaders gathered in Dubai in November 2022.

On Friday 2 December at the World Health Organization (WHO) headquarters, the IHF met with Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Director-General of the WHO, and his leader on climate, Dr Maria Neira, Director, Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health. At the meeting, Dr Tedros and his team were briefed on the IHF’s recently launched Geneva Sustainability Centre and its focus on building the capacities of hospital leaders to lead their institutions in an environmentally sustainable way.

The meeting with Dr Tedros also provided the IHF an opportunity to highlight the exemplary leadership occurring in Geneva from the HUG, Switzerland’s largest university hospital. Bertrand Levrat, Director-General for the HUG and a Governing Council member for the IHF, spoke of the urgency for healthcare leaders to commit their organizations to act now and move towards carbon neutrality.

Dr Tedros congratulated Mr Levrat on achieving global recognition for the HUG’s leadership on climate action, receiving a gold award at the annual IHF Awards ceremony in the category of excellence in corporate social responsibility. Dr Tedros encouraged Mr Levrat to continue his leadership role in the IHF and promote good practice around the world:

“Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, I have experienced up close the dedication and commitment of the University Hospitals of Geneva to deliver care under the most trying circumstances for the people of this city. At the same time, HUG remained committed to protecting the health of our planet through a commitment to sustainability. I applaud Mr Levrat and all who work at HUG for their tireless efforts to care for both the people of Geneva and our environment.”

Recently published research revealed that, from 2018 to 2019, emissions increased by more than 5% and the healthcare sector was responsible for 5.2% of global greenhouse gas emissions. (Romanello et al., 2022 p. 21). Reversing this trend is a long-term challenge for the healthcare sector that will likely require multi-year commitments and the transformation of almost every aspect of how hospitals operate. There are currently few common standards within the industry, leading to different approaches and measurements which prevent comparisons and benchmarking.

Ronald Lavater, CEO of the IHF, underlined the need for global leadership within the healthcare sector:

“The IHF, like the WHO, understands the impact of climate change. But we are only beginning to address the healthcare sector’s contribution to the problem. At the IHF, our members agree we need to raise awareness, and act now, to manage our hospitals and health systems in more sustainable ways. This was the driving force for the creation of the Geneva Sustainability Centre.”

Sonia Roschnik, Executive Director of the Geneva Sustainability Centre, reflected on the relationship between climate and health:

“Climate change is already impacting human health and is increasingly recognized as the greatest threat to our future health. Hospitals and health systems are on the front line when it comes to responding to its consequences. This is a health crisis, and we know that there are emergent issues that will further affect population health that we will need to respond to collectively. Hospitals have got a real role to play in building climate resilience for their patients, staff, and communities.”

The Geneva Sustainability Centre provides a timely opportunity to guide hospitals leaders on climate action. Responding to the sustainability agenda is a long-term challenge for the healthcare sector, and hospital leaders cannot fully address this issue without adequate tools and resources.

The Geneva Sustainability Centre was established by the IHF in early 2022 with support from the HUG and, in particular, from Bertrand Levrat. The Centre is led by Sonia Roschnik, with a small team of dedicated experts in the field of healthcare sustainability. It will provide crucial support to leaders in the healthcare sector at varying stages on their journey to sustainability. The Geneva Sustainability Centre’s purpose is to fill the gap in knowledge, skills, and resources to transition to climate-resilient healthcare.

Written by:

Katherine Bennett

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