Health tech can help solve healthcare carbon emissions problem

AAs climate change threatens the health of the planet and all who live on it, health officials are beginning to take notice. And they should: the healthcare industry is one of the biggest sources of carbon emissions in the world.

According to the Future Health Index 2022 report released in June by Philips, the company I work for, in 2021 only 4% of global health leaders said they prioritized environmental sustainability. A year later, that number had risen to 24%, nearly seven times higher. These leaders understand that as an industry, health care systems, health technology companies and other stakeholders have a responsibility to act.

This imperative is also reflected in major government initiatives, such as the National Academy of Medicine’s Collaborative Action on Decarbonizing the US Healthcare Sector.


What is less clear to many is how to act. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a way forward.

By working together, customers, peers and partners across the value chain can reduce this industry’s collective carbon emissions, leaving a healthier planet and a more resilient and sustainable healthcare industry for generations. coming.


Take the sustainable use of energy and materials seriously

Global healthcare systems account for more than 4% of global CO2 emissions – more than the aviation or shipping sectors. Hospitals have the highest energy intensity of any publicly funded building and emit 2.5 times more greenhouse gases than commercial buildings. In the United States alone, hospitals also produce nearly 6 million tons of waste each year. Responsible and sustainable use of energy and materials is key to reducing carbon emissions from healthcare.

The shift to renewables can have a major impact on large-scale, energy-intensive operations. Collaborating with other healthcare systems, vendors and industry partners to deliver the scale needed can also significantly influence operations. For example, virtual power purchase agreements, applying green procurement criteria when purchasing medical equipment, and investing in innovation that involves circular action – recycling, refurbishing and refurbishment – ​​all gaining popularity in the healthcare industry worldwide.

The energy consumption of medical equipment presents another opportunity for change. In my company, the use of our products by customers accounts for around 80% of Philips’ total environmental impact. That’s why we’ve developed EcoDesign principles to reduce the energy consumption of our products, something every business should do.

Circularity is key to maximizing the value of the energy needed to create products, reduce waste and, by extension, decarbonize healthcare. Several options are available to hospitals to extend the life, capabilities and usability of their existing installed systems. One is to adopt “as a service” models.

These models work like this: instead of purchasing physical equipment directly, hospitals and health systems purchase access to equipment. This provides functionality without large upfront capital expenditure. The as-a-service model allows them to increase or decrease their investment and the use of their equipment to meet their increasing or decreasing needs. When they no longer need the services or upgrades become available, the vendor is able to reuse and recycle the products so they don’t end up prematurely in landfills.

When hospitals and healthcare systems choose to adopt as-a-service models, they can extend lifetime resource efficiency and implement smart digital solutions that can help reduce healthcare carbon emissions. health by remotely deploying updates to existing equipment. New advances are even enabling the use of AI to support predictive maintenance. The result? Longer life, increased workflow efficiency and utilization, and reduced environmental impact. For example, a study by Amazon Web Services showed that 84% less energy is consumed when customers use large centralized cloud-based data centers instead of on-premises infrastructure.

Closing the loop — recyclability, renovation and eco-design

Recyclability – including design for disassembly – is key to reducing the environmental impact of end-of-life products and reducing recycling costs. This is one of the areas that Philips is focusing on with its EcoDesign approach. With many consumers keen to break the take-make-throw cycle, Parts Refurbishment and Salvage offers a choice of used systems that have been fully refurbished, upgraded and quality tested. . In this way, customers can benefit from affordable advanced technology that requires less energy and helps improve the sustainability of the healthcare industry.

When refurbishing or refurbishing is no longer an option, responsible reuse comes next. By salvaging valuable parts, manufacturers can maintain older systems, maximizing service life. When reuse is no longer viable, the final step is to recycle the parts back into raw materials through local recycling networks.

Go digital to provide less resource-intensive care

Virtual assistance, digital tools and software allow businesses to “go paperless”, delivering maximum value with minimum resources. This can help move from resource-intensive clinical settings to lower-cost, home-based community settings, providing more people with access to quality care.

Tools, software and services that enable virtual care can eliminate the need for related travel and its associated CO2 emissions. In fact, a large health system in the Pacific Northwest reported that increasing its telehealth visits between 2019 and 2020 helped reduce travel-related greenhouse gas emissions by 45%.

Optimized care pathways can help reduce environmental burden

In addition to the responsible and sustainable use of energy and materials, health must further optimize care pathways to help reduce the environmental impact of care. Today’s patient journeys are often arduous, with multiple separate appointments for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up. And with the increasing number of co-morbidities in aging populations, this frequently recurs across multiple specialties.

While it is imperative to reduce the environmental footprint of the healthcare industry, it is also vital to improve the healthcare system by investing in prevention, the right diagnosis the first time, minimally invasive therapies and monitoring to help improve patient outcomes and, by reducing the amount of resources needed to provide care over time, the environment.

Sustainable supply chains

Organizations’ supply chain operations often account for more than 90% of their greenhouse gas emissions. To reduce healthcare carbon emissions, leaders must take an end-to-end view of the value chain, make sourcing the cornerstone of sustainability efforts, and inspire their suppliers to work as partners. .

This is hard to accomplish all at once, but taking an industry benchmark approach can help. In Philips’ Supplier Sustainability Program, for example, 28% of our suppliers (based on spend) have committed to science-based carbon reduction targets, and this figure will increase to at least 50%. by 2025. Suppliers and vendors can contribute to the success of these types of programs by working directly with suppliers and incentivizing them to adopt and achieve these goals, leading to a multiple improvement in decarbonization over carbon. simple CO reduction of health technology companies2 emissions.

Harnessing health technologies for action

Embracing sustainability across the healthcare value chain and in all aspects of business is becoming increasingly critical. All stakeholders need to take advantage of technological innovations now to decarbonize healthcare.

Health technology companies cannot make the necessary changes in isolation. They must work with care providers, practitioners, knowledge partners and suppliers. Through collective expertise, sustainable practices can be combined with safe, efficient and effective methods of care to achieve better outcomes at lower cost by using less energy and materials and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. .

Now is the time to connect the dots and align, because taking better care of the planet will lead to better taking care of people.

Kees Wesdorp is the business leader for precision diagnostics at Philips.

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