Dubai Healthcare city
Hospitals and clinics can take a closer look at their international operations - they will find there is much they can change towards being more environmentally responsible. Image Credit: Supplied

The UAE announced 2023 as the Year of Sustainability, which comes as the country gears up for the global climate summit COP28, to be held at Expo City Dubai from November 30 to December 12. With public health and climate change at the forefront of regional and global issues, now is an opportune time for hospitals and healthcare facilities to shift towards more sustainable operations.

Healthcare facilities are facing significant financial and regulatory scrutiny. They are encouraged to make this transition to improve operational efficiency, enhance patient care and, most importantly, reduce their carbon footprint. As with other businesses going green, healthcare facilities implementing sustainable and ethical practices reap multiple benefits, including - but not limited to - lower utility bills and additional operational costs, enhanced brand image, higher employee satisfaction, greater patient and community trust and, of course, a lower carbon footprint.

Sustainable healthcare systems improve public health by contributing to more resilient communities and combating poor institutional practices that yield pollution, waste, and resource exhaustion. Improving operational efficiency also allocates funding and resources for better patient care.

A ‘sustainable healthcare system’ improves, maintains, or restores health whilst it minimises the negative impact on the environment and leverages opportunities to enhance it to the benefit of the health and well-being of current and future generations.

In a health setting, social sustainability relates to the ability of hospitals and healthcare systems to enhance the quality of life and improve the general well-being in the community. Healthcare architecture facilitates connections, enables access, improves health and enhances the overall quality of life.

Reduce carbon footprint

Hospitals and the healthcare industry are moving toward a more sustainable way of operating. However, the sector is responsible for a lot of waste due to equipment sterilisation and a large carbon footprint because of the energy needed to power such extensive facilities. Here are a few ways the healthcare industry could become more sustainable.

> Having sustainable energy, such as solar, can reduce costs in the medical industry. Hospitals take a lot of power and energy to run, so using more sustainable methods would decrease their carbon footprint.

> In 2020, the first electric ambulance was launched in the UK. Swapping out traditional ambulances for electric vehicles cuts down on harmful emissions.

> Educate patients on how their medical choices affect the environment. For example, patients who do not use all their medication can bring it back to the pharmacy, where it can be appropriately disposed of and recycled.

> Medical waste is typically thrown away or incinerated. Unfortunately, specific disposal methods are not only bad for the environment but also create more carbon within the atmosphere. Ways to overcome this would be reducing waste and researching more sustainable incineration.

> Hospitals have a lot of patients who are all fed daily. This means there’s a large amount of food waste for each hospital, which typically ends up in landfills. Having food digesters on site means food can be correctly disposed of.

> Once used, most medical equipment is thrown away and disposed of. Researching ways that equipment can be reused and sterilised will mean there will be less waste and production.

> Moving onto digital software such as websites and apps means hospitals and doctors don’t need to send out paper information, such as records of prescriptions. Not only would this decrease deforestation and improve hospitals’ carbon footprint but also sort out storage problems within hospitals.

> Doctors using video call platforms for appointments and conferences decreases the amount of travel needed and reduces the burning of fossil fuels. This would be more useful for meetings where no physical exams are required.