October 2019 | John Strong
Look at almost any major healthcare supplier’s website and you will find a tab about its sustainability and climate-change mediation efforts. Sadly, these efforts often don’t translate to some of the products they manufacture. Many of them continue to question the market demand by healthcare providers for better, more sustainable products, with good reason. Development and marketing of such products could have a dramatic impact on healthcare’s footprint on climate change.
We often hear all the “reasons” why a healthcare provider can’t buy something. To really battle climate change, healthcare providers—and suppliers—must toss out long-held perceptions about climate and sustainability and act now to reverse alarming trends. Some habits to be broken include:
1. The significant, and unwarranted perception in the market that green and sustainable products always cost more. It is simply not true. As an industry we need to focus demand on better and more sustainable products, which will drive down the cost of manufacturing and benefit customer pricing as well;
2. “We have a contract.” Certainly, but when the contract is going to end are you simply going to renew it? Of course not. Including the idea of better, more sustainable products in the evaluation process is important;
3. “We just evaluated that product line and it is too soon to look at a different product.” Commonly heard, easily understood, but not helpful to changing the market for sustainable products and reducing healthcare’s footprint on the earth; and
4. There is a lingering perception that somehow more sustainable products don’t work as well as the old product. Again, this is simply not true, yet the perception leads people away from considering better and more sustainable products.
At the same time, there is a dedicated group of health industry providers—and suppliers—who do care about sustainability, climate change, and chemicals of concern that continue to be incorporated in many products destined for the healthcare market. This is evidenced by the more than 1,800 provider members of Practice Greenhealth.
Providing healthcare in America is a dirty business
Our American healthcare system accounts globally for 10% of the carbon and production of chemicals leading to climate change. Our healthcare system alone has the same impact as the entire country of Great Britain!
Many providers are talking about “community health,” but the forces of change are going to make that task exponentially more difficult if we, as an industry, don’t change our purchasing, consumption and waste-disposal efforts over time.
Risk # Type of Risk
1. Extreme weather events
2. Failure of climate-change mitigation and adoption
3. Natural disasters
6. Man-made environmental disasters
8. Biodiversity loss and ecosystemcollapse
9. Water crises
Prevention can be an answer too…
Healthcare providers rightly continue to be focused on preparation and readiness to cover almost any disaster, whether man-made or caused by the forces of nature. As an industry, we must also focus some of our efforts on the prevention of climate change, and its impact on the planet. As the graphic notes, the American healthcare industry accounts for 10% of the carbon and chemical releases that are accounting for climate change globally. That’s as much as the entire country of Great Britain!
Think about just some of weather events just in the U.S. during the past year. A mega-tornado wiping out an Alabama town. Fires—then floods—in California. Coastal flooding during full moons in Florida. A category 4 hurricane last season. After a dry winter in 2017, record snow in the Sierras and Rockies have led to the worst avalanche season in 50 years. What can we do to limit some of these events?
Who will lead if the healthcare industry won’t?
If the healthcare industry can’t lead by example to reduce climate change in this country, then who can? Every healthcare provider who is concerned about “community health” and “social responsibility” needs to act now to reduce its footprint leading to a warming planet. It is in everyone’s interest, and certainly the generations growing up now and those yet to come. Step up and be an advocate for positive change.
The healthcare supply chain—from end-to-end—needs to come together to begin to solve for the large-scale manufacture of better, more sustainable goods with production processes that do not contribute to climate change.