How Healthcare Can Become More Sustainable

Sustainable improvement: growing a greener NHS

How Healthcare Can Become More Sustainable


Every sector is looking for ways to contribute to the fight against climate change, even the medical sector, despite all its existing challenges. 

The government’s net zero plans are concurrent with similar strategies from many nations around the world, aiming to make the UK a net zero carbon emitter by 2050. 

Decarbonization is the key process underpinning these strategies, reducing the reliance on fossil fuels to scale back carbon emissions in a bid to save the planet as we know it.

In this article, we’ll explore how the medical sector can go about doing this and why it’s so important that it does.

How are climate change and health linked?

Climate change and health are fundamentally linked, with one impacting the other and vice versa.

Less favorable living conditions on earth, including widespread air pollution and rising temperatures, increase the risk of health conditions for much of the population. The treatment of these conditions is energy and resource-intensive, contributing further to global emissions.

It’s a difficult situation to manage because both public health and climate change are significant in their own right, making the task of balancing the risks of both ever more challenging.

What emissions come from the healthcare sector?

Health and medical systems make up roughly 4% of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to the World Economic Forum. In England, the NHS accounts for around 40% of all public sector emissions, which is a staggering figure.

The main contributors to this are the energy required to power healthcare facilities, emissions from fleets, and indirect emissions from supply chains. Healthcare networks are vast and complex, so emissions from many different industries can be allocated to the sector.

As inefficiencies and pressures on healthcare systems mount, further emissions are inflicted to meet the needs of all stakeholders. Decreasing standards of patient care (in some cases) increases the risk of legal proceedings with medical negligence claim solicitors, but also draws more vital resources away from key focus areas.

What’s being done to reduce the environmental impact of healthcare?

NHS England was the first national healthcare system to announce strategies to become net-zero, in a tremendous move towards wider national and global sustainability goals.

The plans aim to target a few key focus areas: workforce, medicines, care pathways, facilities, transport, and supply chains. Considering the scale and complexity of the healthcare service, this will be a long-term approach but certainly a worthwhile one.

Members of the public have a role to play as well. Seeking medical assistance only when legitimately required and knowing which service to use is crucial in managing resources across the country and minimizing unnecessary emissions.