Hospitals Can Embrace Sustainability To Reduce Their Environmental Impact

By Dr. Mradul Kaushik May 08, 2023

Sustainable healthcare facilities can reduce waste, conserve resources like water and energy, and create a safe environment for patients, staff members, and visitors.

Hospitals Can Embrace Sustainability To Reduce Their Environmental Impact
By replacing outdated lighting, HVAC systems, and equipment with more energy-efficient versions, healthcare facilities can reduce their energy usage.. PTI

Worldwide, healthcare is one of the largest, fastest-growing sectors of the industry. In India, the hospital industry accounts for 80% of the healthcare industry that is expected to be worth US$ 132 billion this year. Most healthcare providers work 24x7 to save lives and improve health outcomes and the industry’s environmental footprint is one that is understandably quite large and cannot be overlooked. Healthcare facilities consume enormous amounts of energy, generate massive quantities of waste and use a wide range of chemicals and materials that contribute to this footprint.

Leading healthcare providers across the globe today, realise their responsibility to use the Earth’s resources judiciously and transparently, inspiring others to follow suit. Greening the healthcare industry has now emerged as a global priority to support sustainability and reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. Sustainable hospitals can conserve energy, water, and associated resources and curb waste while creating a safe, healthy environment for patients, practitioners, and visitors. 

Diverse Sustainability Strategies 

Multiple strategies can help hospitals become more sustainable:

Energy Efficiency: This is one of the most effective ways to reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. Hospitals consume large amounts of energy, contributing to greenhouse gas emissions and climate change. Healthcare facilities can curtail energy consumption by upgrading to energy-efficient lighting, HVAC systems and equipment. By optimizing the use of natural light, energy usage can be reduced significantly. 

Furthermore, hospitals can generate renewable energy by installing solar panels, wind turbines or geothermal systems. By deploying renewable power in the energy mix and via engineering control, it is possible to lower Scope1 (direct) and Scope 2 (indirect) emissions by double digits. 

Hospitals can also install VFD (variable frequency drive) on high-running equipment, EC (electronically commutated) fans in AHUs (air handling units), high-efficiency chillers, inverter technology ACs for higher energy efficiency, improve plant room connectivity and use CTI-approved cooling towers, among other steps.

These can reduce energy consumption by at least 10%. A simple measure such as hospital chains observing Earth Hour across all units can ensure noticeable savings in electricity and CO₂ reduction. Hospitals can also deploy electric vehicles (EVs) for the intra-hospital movement of patients and staff while encouraging and incentivising clinicians and other employees to use EVs. 

Water Conservation: This is the other key aspect of sustainability as hospitals consume huge amounts of water in cleaning, sanitation, patient care, landscaping, etc. By installing low-flow faucets in toilets and showerheads, repairing leaks immediately, upgrading irrigation systems as well as collecting and reusing rainwater, water usage can be curbed significantly. Recycling of treated waste water can be maximised with Membrane Bioreactor-based sewage treatment plants. Treated wastewater may then be used for varied non-potable purposes, including flushing, gardening and within cooling towers. Water recycling programmes can also be implemented for cleaning and sterilizing medical equipment. To drive a double-digit decrease in freshwater usage, hospitals can also leverage the 3Rs principle of Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. 

Waste Reduction and Recycling: Hospitals can limit waste by implementing recycling programmes for paper, plastics and other materials. By composting food and yard waste, healthcare facilities can also reduce their carbon footprint and promote sustainability. Besides, waste reduction strategies can be actioned by purchasing products with minimal packaging, reusing materials and using environmentally-friendly cleaning products.

Moreover, hospitals must adopt a comprehensive waste management approach by identifying and segregating waste into hazardous waste, solid waste, e-waste and bio-medical waste. This should then be disposed of via personnel authorised by the CPCB (Central Pollution Control Board) and SPCB (State Pollution Control Board), who will process hazardous bio-medical waste while the rest is disposed of through incineration. Likewise, organic waste converters can be used to treat and convert this waste into manure, which could be used for horticultural purposes. 

Chemical and Hazardous Materials Reduction:  Reducing the use of chemical and hazardous materials is crucial to promoting sustainability and protecting human health in hospitals. The use of hazardous chemicals and materials can be minimised by using eco-friendly cleaning products, reducing the usage of toxic chemicals in medical procedures and implementing safe disposal programmes for hazardous items. Hospitals should also restrict the use of disposable medical equipment and opt for reusable products.

Green Building Design: Another vital strategy for hospitals is to reduce their carbon footprint by using sustainable materials – such as recycled or reclaimed items – in construction and renovation projects. Also, by optimizing building orientation, ventilation and lighting, energy use can be controlled majorly. Additionally, green roof and wall systems can be installed to provide numerous benefits, including improved air quality, temperature regulationand storm-water management. All new hospitals must be designed according to the norms mandated by the IGBC (Indian Green Building Council). 

Sustainable Food Practices:  Hospitals can source local, organic and sustainably grown food for patients and staff. With a farm-to-table programme, hospitals can limit carbon footprints associated with food transport by supporting local farmers and economies. Food waste can also be reduced with composting programmes and by donating excess food to local food banks and charities.

In Summation

The above initiatives apart, healthcare centres should raise awareness among physicians, nurses and other employees regarding the impact of climate change issues on human well-being. To elaborate, climate change consequences have accelerated the frequency of natural catastrophes such as sudden storms, heatwaves, drought, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, avalanches, etc. Irregular weather events exacerbate chronic conditions, induce heat-related ailments and affect lung health, among other healthcare issues. Global warming has also led to a rise in the risk of respiratory and cardiac diseases as well as a spike in the prevalence of food- and water-borne illnesses, including infectious gastroenteritis and typhoid along with vector-borne ailments such as malaria and dengue. Without a doubt, the health of our planet and people remains inextricably linked. Therefore, greening the healthcare industry is indispensable for promoting sustainable operations to lower the sector’s environmental footprint, making hospital premises and their surroundings a better place for patients, practitioners, visitors and vendors.

(The author is Senior Director of Operations and Planning and Chief Operating Officer, Cluster- 1, Max Healthcare)