April 22, 2022
Healthcare’s impact on global warming
In honor of Earth Day, our graphic this week breaks down healthcare’s carbon footprint. Each year, the US healthcare sector emits around 540M metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents (a measure that standardizes the warming effect of greenhouse gasses), making up just under 10 percent of domestic emissions, equivalent to roughly one-half of the annual output of all cars driven in the US. According to a comprehensive study of the United Kingdom’s National Health Service, around two-thirds of healthcare’s carbon emissions come from its supply chain, meaning far more greenhouse gasses are released indirectly through the manufacturing and shipping of medicine and supplies (which are often single-use) than through the delivery of care. However, especially amid rising supply costs, health systems looking to reduce their carbon footprint may want to focus first on emissions within their direct control. According to experts, hospitals have opportunities to improve their carbon footprint with little to no impact to their bottom lines by being more thoughtful about their energy consumption. Likewise, by limiting the use of certain anesthesia gasses with particularly strong greenhouse effects, they can reduce emissions at no extra cost or compromise of clinical quality. While increasing numbers of health systems are taking initial steps to reduce their carbon footprint, the Biden administration is also signaling that it may soon require hospitals to meet new emission standards.