The Escalating Carbon Footprint of Healthcare

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In recent years, the global conversation around sustainability and environmental impact has gained momentum, moving almost every sector of society (Hariram et al., 2023). The healthcare industry, despite its primary mission to improve human health, has come under scrutiny for its significant contribution to carbon emissions (Rodríguez-Jiménez 2023) Greenhouse gas emission from healthcare industry turned out to be more than the combined emission of shipping and aviation industry (Bhopal and Shrivastava, 2023).

As the world struggles with the challenges of climate change, it is crucial to explore the healthcare carbon footprint and identify strategies to minimize its environmental impact. In fact, there is a paradoxical link between the carbon footprint of healthcare services and healthcare need. (Bhopal, and Shrivastava 2023). In this blog, we will also delve into some of the studies to understand the current state of healthcare-related emissions and discuss innovative approaches to create a more sustainable healthcare system.

A study published in the Lancet Planetary Health in 2021 highlighted the alarming environmental impact of healthcare activities, estimating that the global healthcare sector is responsible for approximately 4%-5% of total worldwide carbon emissions (Sijm and Jaspers 2023).

 This staggering statistic underscores the need for a paradigm shift in the industry’s approach to sustainability. It is also identified by some of the authors that if healthcare was a country, it will be the fourth largest contributor of carbon emissions.

One key contributor to the healthcare carbon footprint is the energy-intensive nature of medical facilities. Hospitals, clinics, and research institutions require vast amounts of energy to operate, leading to substantial greenhouse gas emissions (Tomson, C., 2015). It is also identified how important it is to transition healthcare facilities to renewable energy sources and also how effective it is to implement energy-efficient technologies to mitigate their environmental impact (Dion et al., 2022). Moreover, healthcare generates a significant amount of waste, including hazardous materials such as medical plastics and pharmaceutical by-products. One of the studies proposed innovative waste reduction strategies, such as the implementation of circular economy principles within healthcare systems, to minimize the ecological consequences of medical waste (Chauhan et al., 2021).

Incorporation of sustainable design principles in the construction and renovation of healthcare facilities and the integration of green building practices, such as energy-efficient designs and the use of environmentally friendly materials, has the potential to substantially reduce the carbon footprint of healthcare infrastructure. (Vavili and Kyrkou 2020).

The healthcare industry’s procurement practices play a pivotal role in determining its environmental impact.

A recent study emphasized the need for healthcare organizations to adopt eco-friendly procurement policies, sourcing products and equipment with lower carbon footprints (Chauhan et al., 2021).

Collaborative efforts between healthcare providers and suppliers can drive the development and adoption of sustainable alternatives in the medical supply chain.

The Lancet Commission on Health and Climate Change stressed the importance of engaging healthcare professionals and empowering patients in the fight against climate change (Romanello et al., 2023). Training healthcare staff on sustainable practices, including energy conservation and waste reduction, can contribute to a more environmentally conscious workforce. Additionally, patient education on the environmental impact of healthcare choices, such as medication disposal and transportation to medical appointments, is crucial for fostering a sustainable healthcare ecosystem.

As the world faces the urgent challenges of climate change, the healthcare industry must proactively address its carbon footprint. By drawing insights from recent studies, it is evident that a multi-faceted approach is required. From transitioning to renewable energy sources and implementing sustainable design principles to adopting eco-friendly procurement practices and promoting environmental awareness among healthcare professionals and patients. However, the path to a greener healthcare sector is complex but essential. Embracing these changes today will not only reduce the healthcare industry’s environmental impact but also contribute to a healthier and more sustainable future for generations to come by.


  • Bhopal, A. and Shrivastava, S.H., 2023. The climate crisis: the health service must take responsibility. Tidsskrift for Den norske legeforening.
  • Chauhan, A., Jakhar, S.K. and Chauhan, C., 2021. The interplay of circular economy with industry 4.0 enabled smart city drivers of healthcare waste disposal. Journal of cleaner production279, p.123854
  • Dion, H., Evans, M. and Farrell, P., 2023. Hospitals management transformative initiatives; towards energy efficiency and environmental sustainability in healthcare facilities. Journal of Engineering, Design and Technology, 21(2), pp.552-584.
  • Hariram, N.P., Mekha, K.B., Suganthan, V. and Sudhakar, K., 2023. Sustainalism: An integrated socio-economic-environmental model to address sustainable development and sustainability. Sustainability, 15(13), p.10682.
  • Rodríguez-Jiménez, L., Romero-Martín, M., Spruell, T., Steley, Z., & Gómez-Salgado, J. (2023). The carbon footprint of healthcare settings: A systematic review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 79(8), 2830-2844.
  • Romanello, M., Di Napoli, C., Green, C., Kennard, H., Lampard, P., Scamman, D., Walawender, M., Ali, Z., Ameli, N., Ayeb-Karlsson, S. and Beggs, P.J., 2023. The 2023 report of the Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: the imperative for a health-centred response in a world facing irreversible harms. The Lancet402(10419), pp.2346-2394.
  • Sijm-Eeken M, Jaspers M, Peute L. Identifying Environmental Impact Factors for Sustainable Healthcare: A Scoping Review. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2023 Sep 12;20(18):6747. doi: 10.3390/ijerph20186747. PMID: 37754607; PMCID: PMC10531011.
  • Tomson, C., 2015. Reducing the carbon footprint of hospital-based care. Future hospital journal2(1), p.57.
  • Vavili, F. and Kyrkou, A., 2020. Sustainability and energy efficiency design in hospital buildings. In Energy Efficient Building Design (pp. 157-169). Cham: Springer International Publishing.

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