Skip to Main Content

Healthcare Sustainability and Public Health

Climate change has profound implications for human health, today and in the future. The 2015 Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change (see select reference 1) concluded that:

  • The effects of climate change are being felt today, and future projections represent an unacceptably high and potentially catastrophic risk to human health
  • Tackling climate change could be the greatest global health opportunity of the 21st century
  • The health community has a vital part to play in accelerating progress to address climate change

The US health sector is a leading emitter of greenhouse gas and non-greenhouse gas pollution.

  • If the US health care sector were a nation itself it would rank 13th in the world for greenhouse gas emissions in 2013. It produces nearly 10% of national greenhouse gases
  • US health sector non-greenhouse gas emissions contribute to acid rain (12% of the national total), photochemical smog (10%), and respiratory disease (9%)
  • Public health damages from exposure to non-greenhouse emissions alone were estimated at 405,000 disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) annually. Greenhouse gas emission may contribute to an additional 209,000 DALYs per year
This workshop brought together experts in engineering, sustainability science, clinical care and health systems management to tackle the issue of resource consumption and environmental emissions associated with medicine and health care services.

Inhaled anesthetics are potent greenhouse gases. Waste anesthetic gases (WAGs) are routinely vented off facility rooftops, where their emissions to the outdoor environment are currently not controlled. Several simple strategies can reduce these emissions, and serve to protect public health, without compromising patient care. Project Drawdown aims to benchmark facility-level inhaled anesthetic carbon footprints, as well as per-case averages, to compare and inspire performance improvement efforts.