Day 4 CleanMed Europe: Spotlight on Oceans and Global Healthcare's Carbon Footprint

Thursday, 8 June, 2023
"Healthy oceans and seas are essential to our existence.They cover 70 percent of our planet and we rely on them for food, energy and water. Yet, we have managed to do tremendous damage to these precious resources. We must protect them by eliminating pollution and overfishing and immediately start to responsibly manage and protect all marine life around the world."Global Goal 14: Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development. - The Global Goals

Today's morning session at CleanMed Europe was centered around the protection of water systems and the looming threat of plastic pollution, in awareness of World Ocean Day

Rachael Ward, Networks Coordinator at the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, attended the session led by speakers, Dr. Richard Hixson and Dr. Georgina Sowman of Healthcare Ocean, Courtney Howard of Global Climate and Health Alliance, and Sharon Pfleger of NHS Highland.

The speakers highlighted the alarming fact that global healthcare systems have the same carbon footprint as global shipping and aviation combined, emphasising the need for systemic changes. More than 1 million species, both on land and at sea are at risk of total extinction due to environmental degradation. Notably, coastal communities experience significant health inequalities, with polluted waters causing 250 million cases of ocean-based gastroenteritis annually. 

The speakers brought attention to the harm caused by PVC, the most used plastic in medical equipment. This plastic can leach into humans, causing adverse effects, especially on already vulnerable individuals. The speakers underscored the urgent need for a comprehensive global treaty to significantly reduce plastic production, ideally by at least 75% by 2050, according to Pacific Environments research. A shocking 8.3 billion metric tons of plastic have been produced since 1950, much of it almost impossible to recycle and loaded with harmful chemicals.

An interesting point was made about changing the way prescriptions are given, keeping in mind the impact on the environment and health. They advocated for the BRAN approach when interacting with patients: B for Benefits, R for Risks, A for Alternatives, and N for the impact of doing Nothing.

Through this conference, the urgency of integrating environmental considerations into healthcare strategies was made clear. There is a need to make immediate and concerted efforts to reduce the impact of healthcare systems on our environment for a healthier and more sustainable future.

More on how to reduce environmental pollution from healthcare practices:

Resources developed by the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare to help you understand what is sustainable helathcare and how to take action: 

  • Our training courses offer a mix of core concepts and case studies, followed by live online workshops with expert advice on applying theory to practice in your setting. Designed for health professionals, educators, sustainability or estates managers, the courses prepare you to implement sustainability projects in your workplace, conduct research and contribute to developing and delivering your organisation’s Green Plan. 
  • Our Green Team Competition is an award-winning leadership and engagement programme to transform healthcare by engaging healthcare staff to plan, run and measure the impact of Sustainable Quality Improvement (SusQI) initatives. 
  • Our Networks hub provides a platform for sharing resources, knowledge, and ideas, and connecting with like-minded individuals from around the world.